Tiger Tiger Burning Bright was initially presented on Broadway in December 1962 by Oliver Smith and Roger L. Stevens at the Booth Theater. It ran for 33 performances. Almost 50 years have passed since then. Now it is making a return to the stage at the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood.
The play was written by Peter S. Feibleman and is based on his first novel, A Place Without Twilight, about a pre-World War II black family in New Orleans.Â The novel is narrated by Cille, who struggles for balance and identity in a world where race and class define people for life, and where her two brothers lose themselves beating against the bars of the cage of a divided culture.
Many of the supporting characters in the novel appear in the play as well,Â including Adelaide Smith (my role), Celeste and Dewey Chipley, Mr. Keres and Deacon Sitrre Morris.
Director Sam Nickens wanted to help us make our characters believable and real. Though the characters themselves may be a little over-the-top, they come from a real place; a place that he invited each of the actors to discover and embrace. Everything from the set design to the costumes and the accents emanates from understanding the essence of these characters.
Damien Burke, Barika Croom and DaShawn Barnes
He took great care to work with us to understand the subtle nuances of our characters, the environment they lived in and a number of external factors that help shape their viewpoints, the dialogue and even mannerisms. He says, “My goal was to get the actors to research their own character’s time line. Look back from the year they were born to the time the play was set in and understand how each piece of history affects who they are and what they do. ”
Ultimately, when you look at the overarching theme of the play, survival is at the heart of each character. Whether it is together as a family or on an individual basis, each character seeks to find the best way to survive and create a desired life. We hope this provocative yet heartfelt rendition of a classic will touch the lives and the hearts of audience members.
Tiger Tiger Burning Bright, presented by Upward Bound Productions, opens April 14; plays Thur.- Sat., 8 pm; Sun., 3 pm; through May 22. Tickets: $20. Seniors, students, union members, groups of eight or more: $10. (Use promotional code “BEST”). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; 323.960.7740 or plays411.com/tiger.
Barika A. Croom has a natural gift for performing, being the child of gypsy performers who roamed the city of Dallas, Texas. Rather than running off with the circus, which is the customary path for the youngest child, she chose to attend college and graduated summa cum laude from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Since all of the philosophy and religious studies classes were overpopulated there, she decided to major in psychology and theater. After graduation, she stumbled upon a group of voracious performers at Write Act Repertory and promptly joined the team. Barika is an actress, singer, published poet, playwright and theater producer. The last show she produced, James and Joseph, was nominated for a 2009 NAACP Award. She recently produced her first short film, Second Chances, in which she wrote, produced and starred. It will be in theater festivals this year. She has two other films that have been accepted in the Pan African Festival, the ABFF and the Detroit Film Festival. She was most recently seen in McBeezy: The MacBeth Hip-Hopera which was well reviewed by the Los Angeles Times. Other credits include Karma the Musical, Ordered Chaos and 3rd Degree Burn (Sketch Comedy). Barika is happy to be playing the part of Adelaide in this historical production of Tiger Tiger Burning Bright and thanks Sam Nickens for the opportunity.
Marnie Olson and Erin Treanor in “Merry F***in’ Christmas, Y’All.” Photo by David Nott.
Imagine a house in the woods, a two-story masterpiece with a huge porch and an enormous fireplace. It sits in a remote area of Colorado, nestled among snowy pines and Rocky Mountains. It’s the perfect retreat if you wanted a location to make a heart-warming film about a family realizing that love is the true meaning of Christmas. It would also work if you wanted to make a horror film about teenagers being mutilated by a psychotic killer. It was Christmas 2002, and I was trapped in just such a beautiful house, and for me it was definitely more horror than heart-warming.
The experience of being out in the middle of nowhere with 16 other people — members of my immediate and extended family — was daunting enough that when I returned to Los Angeles, and the rest of my family went back to our home state of Texas, I knew two things for certain. I had hit my rock bottom, and someday, when I was strong enough to write it, I had a really funny play on my hands.
It took years for me to get the detachment I needed to write a play about this experience. I titled it Merry F***in’ Christmas, Y’all! (the asterisks are there not because I enjoy censoring myself, but because it’s the only way we can get the title printed in publications to promote the show). I’ve considered changing it, but I ultimately decided that it’s better to have a provocative title so audiences know what to expect. If a theatergoer is hoping for a wholesome holiday experience, he or she might want to skip this show.
This script was born from trauma. The first trauma — my trip to Colorado — was my inspiration to start writing it. The second trauma — the impending demolition of my beloved theater space — was my inspiration to finish it.
I sat in that house in Colorado feeling utterly hopeless. My depression and disordered eating had made my life completely unmanageable. I was living a complete lie every time that I smiled or pretended to be “normal.” I fantasized about walking out into the snowy landscape with a bottle of vodka and passing out in the snow to die, hoping I could make it look like a tragic accident instead of a suicide, so as not to make anyone feel guilty. I knew it was time to change. Change or die.
When I began this script, I got stuck. Time and again, my own reality trapped me from creating something producible. I certainly didn’t want a 17-character play. I also did not want a lead character with an eating disorder — as I had already written and produced my memoir-play, Crack Whore, Bulimic, Girl-Next-Doorwith that subject matter. Hence, Mia was born – a woman with a secret, living a lie in a dark closet made of her own fear and her mother’s delusions.
This script sat unfinished for years, yet it was completed in two weeks under extreme duress.
For five years, I ran a theater space in Palms, a neighborhood nestled neatly between the ever-trendier Culver City and the affluent Cheviot Hills, and lovingly nicknamed the “gypsy ghetto” by me and my ragtag group of theatrical ruffians. We recycled the previous tenants’ signage, and thereby christened our dingy little space the Psychic Visions Theatre. Impending demolition kept our rent cheap.
Daniel Pittack, Marnie Olson, Julian Vican and Mike Goulis
It was here that Merry F***in’ Christmas, Y’all! was first produced in 2011, just moments before the bulldozers were set to come for us. It was utter madness to attempt such a thing, and yet we did it. It was a Christmas miracle that we pulled off, and it was the last show we did in that space. By the end of January 2012, the space was boarded up and later razed.
Though this story began in a remote cabin in the woods, in a location isolated enough for a psychotic killer to murder teenagers or for a wholesome family to have a heart-warming Christmas, neither of these scenarios really sums up my tale. In the end, my horror show is a comedy — a profanely dark, cynical comedy — but a comedy nonetheless. If I’ve learned anything from my pain, it’s that it can be really hilarious sometimes.
Merry F***in’ Christmas, Y’all, Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd, Valley Village, 91607. Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm. Through January 5.Tickets: $15. www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org. 818-508-3003.
**All Merry F***in’ Christmas, Y’all production photos by David Nott.
Marnie Olson is a writer/director/producer/actor/designer/techie who began her theatrical career at the Melodrama Playhouse & Saloon in San Antonio, TX. She then relocated to Austin and co-founded RoadKill Productions with Caroline Marshall and Jane Madrigal before moving on to Los Angeles. RoadKill produced more than 50 original scripts, written mostly by women, at the Psychic Visions Theatre from 2006 until 2011. Olson also produces full seasons of touring educational theater for children with her company Open Window Entertainment and is an artist with Imagination Workshop, a non-profit organization that encourages at-risk populations to use the creative process as a tool for healing. She is currently editing her first novel, Grateful.
Winner of five Tony Awards, Rick Elice’s prequel to Peter Pan has opened at the Ahmanson. Based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, with a character originally created by James M. Barrie, Peter and the Starcatcher is primarily a play with music describing how Peter remained the eternal “boy”, Captain Hook lost his hand, and Tinker Bell was born.
The tale unfolds utilizing simple techniques reminiscent of story theater and pantomime with a touch of commedia dell’arte.
Waiting on the red carpet to interview celebrities, two women standing behind me asked if I could snap a cell phone pic of them. I did, and the excited Julie Margi said, “I’ve never seen this show, but I’m a big Peter Pan fan, so I go to anything about Peter. I even have a tattoo of him.” Hoping it wasn’t in a secret spot, I asked where. She turned around and needed to be unzipped assuring me I wouldn’t have to go too far.
Zip. A flying Peter! “Keep going.” Zip. Zip. Wendy mid-air. Zip, zip, zip — Tinker Bell and a small motif. Below it in script font I read: To love would be an awfully big adventure. “I’ve had this tattoo about two years now. It’s my first one and it was very painful.” Margi explained she’s an aesthetician who specializes in facials, waxing and makeup. “I’ve watched movies, cartoons and anything I could see that’s like a spin-off. I’ve seen Peter Pan threesixty° [a version in a video-saturated tent, which played Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa in 2010], and I’m really excited about this because I don’t know what to expect, but I hear it tells what happened before and how he became Peter.”
A picture is worth a thousand words. I grabbed photographer Ryan Miller who shoots our celeb pix and watched his eyes widen as I unzipped Margi again, assuring him this would not be an R-rated shot.
Marion Ross was the first celeb I interviewed. Afterwards, Margi asked, “Who was that actress?” I explained she was probably too young to remember TV’s Happy Days. “Oh, yes, yes! She was the mother. I saw the reruns.” Another surprise from The Girl With The Peter Tattoo — move over, Rooney Mara, with your Dragon.
Ross was here to see her friend Nathan Hosner who plays Lord Aster. “I worked with him in Kansas City last Christmas when he was Sherlock Holmes and I played his mother.” Asked to comment about the story of a boy who never grows up, Ross observed, “Well, you’re talking to a Peter Pan because as an actor, that’s what we are. We are children who are allowed to play and make believe and that’s our whole life.”
Alan Mandell waved hello and Ross beckoned him to join us. Mandell explained, “We did Grey’s Anatomy together as married people whose spouses died and we became lovers.”
He left to pick up tickets, and Ross smiled warmly. “As actors we have so many friends because when we work together we bond. Right now I’m doing Two and a Half Men [CBS] with Ashton Kutcher.”
Asked to describe her role, Ross demurred, “Well, they told me not to tell. I shoot tomorrow so you’ll see it soon. You know how the show is very risqué?” Are you his new girlfriend? Big laugh as she gave her best cat-with-the-canary grin. “Maybe. Maybe. You’ll see.”
Barrett Foa, a series regular on NCIS: Los Angeles arrived and said he was one of the show’s investors. I told him he was way too young and cute to fit the prototype. “Thank you, thank you. I was a huge fan when I saw it in La Jolla before they moved to New York. My really good friend from college Celia Keenan-Bolger was the original Molly. I invested in the Off-Broadway, Broadway and now the touring production — I believed in it that much. It speaks to the magic of theater. They make an entire world out of ropes and crates. It’s amazing.”
Most actors limit theater investments to shows they perform in or direct. Has he done this before? “Ahhh, wellllll, yes. He smiled broadly. “I have a few in my back pocket. When I believe in a show and I really want to flush that money down the toilet, I just throw it at some theater and say, I don’t need this money anymore, so I’m gonna put it in this show.” Cute and charmingly funny!
Was that your experience with Peter? “No. No.” He laughs. “Actually this has been one of my best investment returns. But, that’s not the point for theater. If I believe in it, then I don’t mind watching that money go or come back to me.”
Foa’s personal take on the “boy who won’t grow up”? He pauses. “I like to think I’m growing up but not growing old. I believe this story is universal. I like that a company of actors tells the tale in a really inventive way. There’s something special about that.”
Later that evening, the cast party was held at Kendall’s Brasserie and Bar, where we celebrated with wine and selected delicacies. British actor/director Roger Rees, who co-directed with Alex Timbers, joined me in a booth, where I asked why the story of Peter Pan — more than 100 years old — continues to fascinate audiences. “Well, don’t you wish you were as innocent as you used to be? I think we all do. In the original Barrie book and play, Peter is looking through a window at a family. He will never have one, he will never make love to anyone, and he will never have children. So, always being a child means you make a big sacrifice. You don’t enter the responsibilities of adulthood and this play challenges that. It says, maybe what you should be doing is to be an adult and be responsible.”
Joey deBettencourt, Megan Stern and John Sanders
Rees was unconcerned about going to Broadway with a show, which, by today’s standards, has a relatively bare-bones stage. “We ask the audience to use their imagination, and I think they like that and are flattered by it. We don’t have wires for Peter to fly. That is a very phony experience. In this production you see Peter fly when he jumps off a ladder and is caught by other people. So the human body is actually flying through the air…It is not a children’s play. This is a deep adult play with a lot of panache.”
John Sanders plays the role of Black Stache, which garnered Christian Borle a Tony award. “I was a cover for Stache and a couple of others. I played it on Broadway and then when it ended I left to do the original company of Matilda (the Musical). Last summer Rick Elice emailed me to ask if I’d like to play Stache on the tour and it has all been very exciting.”
The tour opened in Denver and played eight cities before arriving in Los Angeles. “As we take it around the country, we find what comes back at us is different from city to city. We’ve only been in LA two nights but I can see it’s a really sophisticated audience here. They love the writing, cultural touchstones and so many anachronisms — little things that seem like they don’t belong. This LA audience is really tuned into it all.”
The highlight of the second act is a show-stopping, hysterical aria of a monologue where we discover how Stache lost his hand and became Captain Hook. “To be quite honest, it changes drastically from night to night. There are new things that come up in almost every performance. There’s a bit in the beginning and at the end which is always the same, but the vast majority of it is a conversation with the audience.” Sanders revealed this evening’s nuance. “Lately, I’ve been experimenting with this thing where I set the table for myself, and tonight was terrific for that bit. There were rolling waves of laughter; riding them, letting them go away. then getting them back was great, because this was a very willing audience and such fun to play with.”
Director Roger Rees, actress Marion Ross and Sylvie Drake
Careers have their ups and downs, and often actors experience a defining moment resulting in that successful trajectory. “You know I was just talking to my friend about exactly that. I had come off a big success and then had a year when almost nothing happened. After a number of months not working, I was asked to do a play by a director I’d worked with many times. He and I really butted heads on this project, and overcoming those difficulties shook a lot of stuff loose for me. That hard time allowed me to come out a bit raw and hungry.”
He smiled and added, “It also helped that a few New York casting directors saw me at the right time when I was working in Chicago.”
Explain what you meant by “shook things loose”. Sanders took a moment. “The idea that there is a right way of doing things. I always thought if I could only figure out what that is — the secret other people know about acting, how to do it well, how to do it right. If I could figure out what all these other people seem to know, then maybe I’d get into the club.”
The self-discovery he experienced was timely since Sanders was about to re-create a role he had understudied to the actor who won the Tony. “I learned the right way to do things is your way, because that’s what people are paying to see. For me, that was the secret. In some ways it’s a necessary lesson before doing something like this, so you’re not trying to figure out what his secrets are. You can see the truths and ideas behind what he’s doing; behind the stagecraft, and employ those ideas in your own way. Instead of trying to be somebody, be you.”
From left, CTG Artistic Director Michael Ritchie, Playwright Rick Elice, Director Roger Rees and actress Kate Burton pose during the arrivals for the opening night performance of "Peter and the Star Catcher" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on December 4, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, Director Roger Rees and Playwright Rick Elice pose during the arrivals for the opening night performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on December 4, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, cast members Lee Zarrett and Megan Stern pose during the party for the opening night performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on December 4, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, cast members Joey deBettencourt, Megan Stern and John Sanders pose during the party for the opening night performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on December 4, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
Actor Charles Shaughnessy poses during the arrivals for the opening night performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on December 4, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
Actor Matthew Ashford poses during the arrivals for the opening night performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on December 4, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, cast members Edward Tournier, Joey deBettencourt and Carl Howell pose during the party for the opening night performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on December 4, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, cast members Jimonn Cole, Rachel Prather and Lee Zarrett pose during the party for the opening night performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on December 4, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, Jenn Freeman and cast member Ian Michael Stuart pose during the party for the opening night performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on December 4, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, cast members Nick Vidal and Ben Beckley pose during the party for the opening night performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on December 4, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
Producer Jamie deRoy poses during the arrivals for the opening night performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on December 4, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, cast members Joey deBettencourt, Jimonn Cole and Robert Franklin Neill pose during the party for the opening night performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on December 4, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
He was supposed to be at the Geffen Playhouse, reprising his 2012 role as Mr. Abramowitz in Donald Margulies’Coney Island Christmas, which was to be the Geffen’s annual holiday show following its premiere last December. Instead, citing “scheduling conflicts,” the Geffen is presenting Bette Midler’s solo showI’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers, which ran on Broadway this past spring.
“You know, it’s a beautiful play,” says Gross about Coney Island Christmas, while seated in the Annenberg’s green room on a rainy Friday after Thanksgiving. “I’ve got a Google alert for it and in the past couple of days there are about five theaters around the country that are doing it. I’m very happy for Donald. He and I had an exchange just days before I got the offer to do this play. We were talking about sitting shiva for Coney Island Christmas not happening again at the Geffen, but then this came along.”
“This” being the 1930s romantic comedy that inspired the films The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime, You’ve Got Mail and the Broadway musical She Loves Me. Set during Christmastime in a 1937 Budapest perfume boutique, the play and its subsequent versions feature two embattled employees, each of whom has been writing love letters to an anonymous correspondent — without realizing that they have been writing to each other.
Gross admits surprise at the odds of acting in two back-to-back Christmas productions set in historical eras. “I didn’t see this coming, you know? I didn’t see playing Jews in two Christmas plays on the Westside in a row. It seemed like a long shot.”
Audiences know the LA native from his more-than-35-year career starring in films (Soul Man to Grey Gardens), television (Ellen to Castle) and theater (The Time of Your Life to Brooklyn Boy). He studied acting at South Coast Repertory’s conservatory, became a member of its company and went on to appear in numerous productions there including Margulies’ Brooklyn Boy, which transferred to Broadway in 2005. A veteran of countless shows at various LA theaters, he is a member of Antaeus Company (Mrs. Warren’s Profession) and was the former artistic director of the award-winning Stages Theatre Center in Hollywood from 2000-2003.
Noting the return of The Lion King to the Pantages, Gross agrees that participating in the Annenberg’s inaugural theatrical production has a certain “circle of life” quality to it. He performed in SCR’s 1978 mounting of William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life, which inaugurated its new Fourth Step 507-seat theater. Then there’s the Tisch sculpture garden.
“Here’s this magnificent [Annenberg] complex and right outside the [Bram Goldsmith] theater doors is the Jamie Tisch sculpture garden,” Gross explains. “She’s married to Steve Tisch who produced [the 1986 film] Soul Man. He’s the guy who said, ‘You know what? I think we can use you.’ Steve kind of gave me my break.”
Not Merely a Meringue
Arye Gross and Isabella Acres in the 2012 Geffen Playhouse production of “Coney Island Christmas.”
Gross warns that while Parfumerie may seem like merely a confection, it has more serious underpinnings. Though the play is set in Budapest in December 1937, before World War II started, inklings of the upcoming fate of the Jews can be felt. The playwright himself fled Hungary in 1938, as anti-Jewish laws were going into effect.
“It’s a pretty interesting play,” he offers. “It’s a comedy but it has its deep bass notes about the kind of slice-of-life struggles in these people’s lives. It’s a Christmas play, but it takes place in this moment historically where no one knew what was about to happen. While the play doesn’t go into it, if you research it [you can] find out why is it that the policeman comes in the first scene and says that if we don’t want to get in trouble, we have to shut down because we are 20 minutes past the 8:00 curfew. But people are still talking about the fact that they are going to go out and they are going to the movies.”
Gross says that at that time, half the merchants in Budapest were Jewish and they were under a curfew. Jewish shops were required to close before other shops. The following year, the number of those shops dropped to 20% then 5%. Within 18 months, there were a quarter million unemployed Jews in Budapest.
“Hence the character I’m playing, Sipos, has this extraordinary anxiety about losing his job in this place. His life and his family depend on it. So if you just read the play, it feels like, well, the guy is worried about losing his job. But if you look at it in the historical context, he will not have money to escape. He will never be able to get a job again, because there are no jobs because they are forbidden. So there’s all this heavy stuff underneath, but it’s this lighter-than-air thing, you know?”
Arye Gross in “Parfumerie”
The new English adaptation by playwright László’s nephew E.P Dowdall restored the play to its original form, which equally juxtaposes the troubled marriage of the shop owner with the plight of the young lovers. That, coupled with the news of wars and strife from surrounding countries, gives the play a contemporary resonance.
“Sipos has a speech about why he takes being yelled at [by the boss], and he says, compared to what was happening in the world, what does it matter?” says Gross. “In the 1930s, thousands were facing starvation every day, neighboring countries are constantly at war…we’re rehearsing this while getting news about the hurricane in the Philippines and what’s going on in Syria. So all of it is perfectly resonant. It looks like a meringue but it’s really meaty.”
Gross is also enjoying the fact that the play is not ironic. “The characters don’t operate at a remove from their circumstance. No one’s cool. The birth of the cool has not happened yet and it’s kind of a relief.”
Recreating a Parfumerie
Director Mark Brokaw steps into the green room for a moment to use the microwave. His production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is currently running on Broadway. He’s also noted for the original New York productions of Lynda Barry’s The Good Times Are Killing Me, Douglas Carter Beane’s As Bees in Honey Drown, Lisa Kron’s 2.5 Mile Ride, Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth and Lobby Hero, Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive and The Long Christmas Ride Home, among others.
“I’m so lucky, it’s a fantastic cast,” says Brokaw, as he stops to briefly chat. “And we are especially lucky to have him,” indicating Gross with a smile. “It’s really a great group and I’m having a fantastic time with them.”
When asked about the full-scale parfumerie recreated on stage, Brokaw says, “It’s based on one that is on Andrássy Avenue [in Budapest]. It’s a historic landmark and is a parfumerie still. That is in the back and it’s modernized in the front.”
The set of “Parfumerie”
A realistic Budapest street scene is visible from the shop’s two front windows. Brokaw explains before walking out that it’s “a photograph our set designer [Allen Moyer] found. It’s actually Váci Street.”
“There are thousands of hand props in this, and that’s not an exaggeration,” adds Gross. “I saw someone cutting out endless labels for the fake products. It’s incredible. I’ve never worked on something with this level of attention to detail in the set props and the clothing.”
Grateful for the Grace
Gross admits that he’s been living the working actor’s dream right now, neatly balancing meaty theatrical, film and television roles — from his recurring role as Sidney Perlmutter on ABC’s Castle to a glowing New York Times review for the 2010 film Harvest to a recently announced role in the premiere of Bernard Weinraub’s play Above the Fold, which is being directed by Steve Robman and will open February 2 at Pasadena Playhouse.
“I’m one of the most fortunate actors out there, I think,” he admits. “In the past 10 years, I’ve really gotten to work on wonderful projects with great people and…without a lot of effort on my part!” He laughs.
Gross did a reading of Above the Fold for the Playhouse’s Hothouse series before doing Coney Island Christmas last year. He says he’s glad it’s moving into full production.
“I think it’s a very interesting and timely play. “When Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, the comment from The Onion was ‘Nation Stunned as Man Buys Newspaper.’So that’s sort of the heart of it. What will these organizations do to stay in business?”
Anne Gee Byrd and Arye Gross in the 2013 production of “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” at Antaeus Company.
When asked whether running another theater company is something he’d consider doing again, Gross turns philosophical. “I didn’t have a lifelong dream to run a theater, but at the moment that it came up, it was absolutely the right thing to do at that time. It may be again. [Stages founder] Paul Verdier made such an impact on theater in Los Angeles and was such a big part of my theatrical education. It kind of connects to this play, because there’s a style to it that I learned from Paul.
“But everything about running a theater, I learned at SCR from Martin Benson and Leo Collin and Norman [Godfrey], the facilities manager…these guys made me learn how a theater works when I just wanted to act.”
Gross credits acting teacher Roy London with offering a guiding principle. “I remember him saying at least a couple of times that there’s no failure in anything you’re trying to do. That the only failure is the failure to engage. So try. If it doesn’t go the way you want it to, well, you’ve learned things.
“That idea, that the only failure is the failure to engage, is something I’ve tried to live by and live in…yes.”
Parfumerie, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills 90210. Tue-Fri 8 pm, Sat 3 pm and 8 pm, Sun 2 pm and 7 pm. Through Dec. 22. Tickets: $49-129. www.thewallis.org. 310-746-4000.
Theatrical Producers League of Los Angeles (TPLLA), which began as an organization for theater companies that operated in spaces with fewer than 100 seats, has confirmed a merger with the group of midsize companies that was formerly known as Greater Los Angeles Theatre Producers’ League. According to the announcement, larger theaters will also be joining the newly formed organization shortly, although it had been stated at a June 17 TPLLA meeting that larger LA-area producing organization would not take part in any ensuing merger meetings. The largest of them all would be Center Theatre Group (CTG), and its managing director Edward L. Rada stated today that he had “received an initial — very preliminary — phone call about this several weeks ago,” and he’s “anxiously awaiting more information.” Meanwhile, in order to serve as an umbrella to handle common concerns within each organization, a new 501(c)(6) is being formed. At the June meeting, the issue of collective bargaining proved to be a potential sticking point separating the interests of the smaller theaters and the midsize companies. But “collective bargaining is not going to be the purview of the umbrella organization,” explains Trent Steelman, a member of the four-member transitional committee, and former executive director of the midsize Colony Theatre. “Each sub-group can take on the issue if they choose. At this time, the intimate [theater] level chooses to, the midsize [group] does not, as we are relatively satisfied with our individual agreements with Equity.” In a prepared statement, Michael Seel, board chair of TPLLA-Intimate comments, “It has been a long process, but for the first time in Los Angeles history, we are thrilled to be able to announce that a producers’ league has emerged that encompasses not just our thriving 99-seat-and-under community, but the entire theatrical landscape of Los Angeles theater”…Looking to next summer, dates are now set for the fifth annual Hollywood Fringe Festival — June 12-29, with previews running June 5-10. Registration opens Feb 1. A pre-Fringe meeting is scheduled for Sat, Dec 7 in the Asylum Lab at Theatre Asylum in Hollywood, “focused on improving our venue efforts in 2014”…
Taraji P. Henson
AROUND TOWN… Pasadena Playhouse continues its 2013-14 season with the premiere of Bernard Weinraub’s Above the Fold, focusing on the “intricacies and the sometimes dangerous aspects of the world of journalism,” helmed by Steven Robman, starring Academy Award and Emmy nominee Taraji P. Henson(The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), opening Feb 2. Developed within the Playhouse’s Hothouse series, the cast also features Kristi Johnson, Arye Gross, Kris Higgins, Mark Hildreth, Joe Massingill and Seamus Mulcahy…Cabrillo Music Theatre celebrates its 20th anniversary season with 1960s boy band songfest, Forever Plaid, created by Stuart Ross, helmed by original cast member Larry Raben, musical direction by Alby Potts, opening Jan 31 at Kavli Theare at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza…..In Burbank, Elvis’s Toenail by Irish playwright Fionnuala Kenny, helmed by Joe Banno and Sal Romeo, is extending through Dec 14 at Sidewalk Studio Theatre…And on a holiday note, Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks is hosting the return of Ovation-nominated Santasia — a multimedia comedy, wrought by Loser Kids Productions, opening tomorrow, Dec 6…
BWW TV EXCLUSIVE: Laura Benanti in Concert for Lincoln Center’s American Songbook!
SHORT TAKES... Chris Isaacson’s Upright Cabaret is presenting 2008 Tony-winner Laura Benanti (Gypsy) in her LA concert debut, In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention – accompanied by music directorTodd Almond — one night only at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood, Jan 9… Classical Theatre Lab is presenting a free staged reading of A Doll’s House,Henrik Ibsen’s much-produced 1879 sojourn within one woman’s quest for personal liberation, helmed byBruce Katzman, performing Dec 14 at Plummer Park’s Great Hall in West Hollywood.. Rogue Machine on Pico Blvd is presenting its recurring Around-the-Clock plays. A half-dozen writers gather to obtain their casts and themes tomorrow evening, then script through the early morning hours. Completed 10-minute plays, directors and actors gather Saturday morning (Dec 7), rehearse through the day, offering up their newly minted wares at 8 pm. Tracie Lockwoodis the producer/facilitator…Over at Santa Monica Airport, Ruskin Group Theatre is hosting Susan Hayden’s monthly series, Library Girl, presenting Boulevard of Spoken Dramas this Sunday, featuring the works ofIris Berry, Dennis Cruz, Annette Cruz, Rich Ferguson, Caryle Archibeque, Richard ModianoandS.A. Griffin…
THE THING IS… “It’s kind of a skewed take at what happens when people go through a midlife crisis and how the traditional mores of the times kind of influence that. Originally, Sigrid asked me to play one of the roles. She wrote the part with me in mind. We did a reading of it in August. But as we got closer to the workshop, she was having trouble finding a director with the time frame that we have. The holidays are hard on peoples’ schedules. So, I offered to step up and take a stab at directing it, stepping back from being in it. I’ve been happy to do it. This is the fourth project I’ve done with Sigrid, including last year’s Harry and the Thief. This current play came from Sigrid’s own thoughts and feelings about approaching middle age herself. It also came from conversations she had about the origination of the ice cream sundae. This is how Sigrid’s mind works. We’ve been working on this for four weeks, including taking the Thanksgiving holiday off. It’s been a short process. We have a seven-member cast, but it always feels like there are more of us. Everything is stripped down and suggested, utilizing pieces we’ve found in the theater. The costumes are more indicated than realized. We’ve made cartoonish-looking cardboard cutouts of our props, which serve to represent the real thing. It all works for the story we are telling. The audience is going to have to suspend a little bit of disbelief. But they’ll find it is worth the effort.” — Kila Kitu is directing a workshop of Frilly, about “the soul-sucking suck of growing old, and growing up,” scripted by Sigrid Gilmer, produced in conjunction with LAb Works 2013, performing Dec 7, 8, 13, 15 at Skylight Theatre Complex in Hollywood.
Julio Martinez-produced and hosted Arts in Review (AIR) celebrates the best in LA-area theater and cabaret on KPFK Radio (90.7FM), Fridays (2-2:30 pm). On Dec 6, Arts in Review spotlights the making of the opera Invisible Cities, airing on KCET, as well as comics Maile Flanagan and Mo Collins.
Trevor H. Olsen, Kirsten Vangsness and Jennifer Flack in “The Invisible Play.” Photo by Eric Neil Gutierrez.
It’s a busy world for Amanda Weier. There’s the day job (real estate agent) and the constant hum of a theater life (acting, directing, producing) with her home company, Open Fist, and other Los Angeles theaters. This week Weier unveils her latest directorial endeavor — the West Coast premiere of The Invisible Play by Alex Dremann. It opens Friday at Theatre of NOTE.
Petite and sharp, Weier has plenty of opinions and insights about LA theater. She’s also easy to talk to, whether the topic is the current LA housing market or the legal ramifications of the Beckett Estate and an all-female production of Waiting for Godot (her favorite play).
Weier has been creating theater in Los Angeles for more than 13 years, with nearly 10 of those years as a company member at Open Fist, primarily as an actor. But Weier has also done her share of directing. She’s helmed over half-dozen projects at Open Fist, including the 2006 West Coast premiere of Neil LaBute’s Autobahn.
In fact, many of her directorial projects have been West Coast premieres or world premieres with living playwrights having some part in the process, even if only a conversation. She likes it that way.
“As a director, usually that’s my preference,” says Weier. “Because I love developing new work. It’s not only so important — creating the work itself — but just for a director to have that balance and point of view [of the playwright] present when telling the stories of a particular generation. It reminds me how so many great plays were written.”
Coming to Los Angeles from Chicago in 2000, Weier was directing actor showcases for Northwestern theater graduates (her alma mater) and studying improv before joining Open Fist in 2004. While Weier prefers acting to anything else, she has enjoyed her directing projects and flexing her different creative muscles.
Weier learned NOTE was seeking a director for Invisible from a friend’s post on Facebook. After reading the script, she knew she wanted to throw her hat in the ring.
“When I read a play, I can picture it,” says Weier. “I’ve realized in hindsight that I’m thinking about ‘what is the convention I want to explore’…’what is that magic that [the play] is supposed to be about.’”
In the case of The Invisible Play, Weier feels the “magic” is the concept of invisibility as both a metaphor and a literal state of being.
“The characters in the play embody varying degrees of visibility,” says Weier, “and a theory is tested concerning the role that love might play in determining how visible a person is to the rest of the world.”
She submitted a directing proposal and went through an interview process with NOTE’s artistic management committee, the governing body that makes artistic decisions for the group. She found working as a director with a theater company other than Open Fist intriguing, even if to simply appreciate another successful process that makes theater happen in Hollywood.
Gina Garcia-Sharp, Norm Johnson and Wendi West
“I love the way they’re run because they’re so democratic,” says Weier of the selection process that won her the directing gig. “They’re also democratic in their selection of a play. I knew that when I came in, I had some ideas for it, but I had no idea they had done so many readings.”
That would be four or five readings of Invisible over the past year, giving the NOTE members an opportunity to fully explore the play they were voting to potentially produce. Weier also found this collective knowledge of the script a luxury when it came to the nuts and bolts of such steps as casting.
“You talk about an embarrassment of riches,” says Weier, “I could have cast the thing four times over because they all knew it so well.” The final cast of eight actors playing the nine roles consists entirely of Theatre of NOTE company members. Philadelphia-based playwright Dremann did not attend rehearsals but has been in correspondence with Weier throughout rehearsals. According to Weier, he’s planning to see the show.
A fan of playwrights, Weier finds her directing role is an opportunity to engage writers in conversations about their stories, sometimes hoping to try things outside the bounds of the written script. She also draws on her first passion — acting — in her directing style.
“I try to be the director that I’d like to work with as an actor,” says Weier. “I’m very interested in speaking the various languages that help bring out the best performances in actors…I like to look at [a production] as an army of people coming together to tell a story.”
Weier’s been nominated for two LA Weekly actress awards (for Stage Door and Room Service at Open Fist in 2010 and 2011, respectively). She won the 2011 LA Weekly Award for best production design for House of Gold at Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA (another West Coast premiere). But no matter what her creative task, Weier reports she tackles each one differently.
Norm Johnson, Jennifer Flack and Wendi West
“I have a much more outside eye when I’m preparing to direct,” says Weier. “I think when you’re acting you know what your instrument is within the symphony that you’re playing. But when you’re directing, you have to be more of a conductor. And it’s much more layered.”
Weier also describes the overall value she derives as an actor by working in other capacities within different theater companies and at Open Fist, even as a producer or production manager. She feels it makes her more aware of her part of the creative process when she understands it from another perspective. It also provides an important reality check about the economics of producing theater in LA. In fact, she wishes younger talent — especially those new to the city — would do the same.
“I feel like every five minutes another theater company is starting,” says Weier. “And they’re starting with that really great propulsion you need to start something…and then three years down the road it’s about sustaining something and not killing each other in the process. Keeping a company going — and doing good work — is hard.”
Weier encourages newbies to find a theater home in Los Angeles before creating a new company from scratch. Her experiences with both NOTE and EST/LA have given her insight to other theater companies besides Open Fist and have extended her personal network of theater professionals.
“There’s lots of different [theater company] models to choose from,” says Weier. “Several with good track records. And they’ve all got their pros and cons, but as an artistic climate you can find something [in Los Angeles] for your personality.”
Another side effect of the theater climate in LA seems to be the regular upheaval of companies from their home spaces. In July, Open Fist moved out of its theater home on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood due to a rent increase (and it had moved to that space after losing its previous space on La Brea in 2006 under similar circumstances). The company is currently homeless. Weier’s experience in real estate has already been tapped, helping to locate properties for the Open Fist board to investigate. She would like the company to stay in Hollywood but fears that could be difficult based on the current market.
Trevor H. Olsen and Jennifer Flack
In spite of the challenges, Weier also notes great improvements in the last few years within LA’s theater scene. She’s particularly excited about the growth of the Hollywood Fringe Festival and the overall persistent excellence in so many smaller venues and theater companies throughout greater Los Angeles.
“It will be interesting to see what the next five years will bring,” says Weier. “These companies with the longer track records have really weathered some storms.”
The Invisible Play, Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Opens Friday. Thu-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm. Through Dec. 21. Tickets: $20/$25. www.theatreofnote.com. 323-856-8611.
**All The Invisible Play production photos by Eric Neil Gutierrez.
JP Hubbell in “The Eight: Reindeer Monologues.” Photo by Brad Hills.
In 1991, Rage! or I’ll Be Home for Christmas was all the rage among LA’s spiked-punch Christmas theater fans — those who purposefully look for productions that provide alternatives to the sentimental entertainment offerings that tend to dominate during December.
Rage! was a production of the still-fledgling Alliance Repertory Company, then in Burbank. The script, by Kevin Arnold and Gus Buktenica, was subtitled “A White Trash Family Comedy in Two Black Acts.” In the first act, an abusive man invites his estranged wife, promiscuous daughter and gay son to his house for Christmas. As director John Randle summed up the second act for the LA Times, “the second act takes place three years later in a TV studio — a reality show called Death Row.”
Since 1991, Alliance Repertory has gone through ups and downs, and it has been dormant for the last three years. But “leave the kids at home” Christmas shows have proliferated in the LA area, and some of them — Bob’s Holiday Office Party, The Santaland Diaries and especially Jeff Goode’s The Eight: Reindeer Monologuespop up just about every year in at least one small venue and sometimes more than one (Chance Theater in Anaheim is currently presenting what is billed as its “10th and final year” of The Eight).
So perhaps it’s appropriate that Alliance Rep, where Rage! once ruled the Christmas season, is staging its current comeback with that perennial spiked-punch favorite, The Eight.
“There’s so much around the holiday season that is ‘roasted chestnuts’ and saccharine. And this show is a naughty, naughty play,” notes co-director David Peryam. “You know, for lots of us, Christmas isn’t always a beautiful thing. And with this piece, we get to embrace that unpleasantness and say ‘that’s okay if your Christmas is not the most perfect thing that ever was’.”
In The Eight — for those who haven’t yet made its acquaintance — scandal rocks the North Pole, when reindeer Vixen (played by Alliance artistic director Royana Black) accuses jolly ole Santa Claus himself of conduct that is very unbecoming of his “Saint Nick” moniker. As the rest of the reindeer, known as “The Eight,” relay their stories, a dark and twisted tale of perversion and corruption emerges.
“Vixen is the main accuser of this particular incident,” Black says. “She has been with ‘The Eight’ for a very, very, very long time. She was on the team with her husband Victor, but a horrible tragedy befell him. So she stayed on the team and in the North Pole because she didn’t really have anywhere else to go. I mean, what other options do you have if you’re a flying reindeer? It’s not like the world is your oyster. And then one day she happened to walk into the toy shop at the wrong time, and is basically raped…by Santa.”
For Black, who co-directs the production with Peryam, Goode’s tale has certainly turned her perceptions of Christmas lore upside down. “I need to ask Jeff where this all came from — you know, did he have some sort of traumatic Christmas story? — because this show is just very, very twisted,” she laughs. “I see Santa at the mall and I’m just like ‘Blech’. It kind of ruins the magic, but I guess that’s okay.”
Joining Black — who began her acting career on Broadway at the age of 10 in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs — is another former child actress on Broadway, Daisy Eagan, who won a Tony Award at the age of 11 for The Secret Garden. She is the youngest female to ever win the award.
Royana Black and Daisy Egan
As with the Alliance itself, this is sort of a re-emergence for Eagan as well, who had a baby (Monty Harrison Eagan-Bloom) just six months ago. ““Now I’m just trying to get back into it and drum up work. Hollywood is one of those places where if you’re gone for five minutes, everybody forgets who you are. So you have to kind of start over each time,” she explains. In January, Eagan then heads north to San Francisco to premiere her brand-new one-woman show, which is currently in the works to make its way back to Los Angeles after that.
In The Eight, Eagan plays Dancer, a reindeer caught in a very real predicament in the midst of this molestation scandal. “My character is a former ballet instructor who was forced out of teaching through some…um…circumstances. So she ended up at the North Pole as one of the ‘Eight’, not really understanding that’s it’s a Christmas job. Dancer, I think more than any other character, really tries to keep her head down and not get involved. I think that she would very much prefer not to delve into what goes on with Santa. While everybody else has a very strong opinion, I think she tries to stay as neutral as possible because she needs the job. And then I think through the course of the story, she comes to the realization that it might not have been the best thing for her to do morally.”
Both Black and Peryam, who have done this show twice as one-night-only readings, insist that it’s the hard-hitting reality of the piece that makes it a comedy.
Black says she “did a reading of this in New York probably about 15 years ago — I actually played the part Daisy’s playing — and I loved it! And then somehow I got put in the position of being the artistic director at the Alliance [in 2007] and we just had a bunch of bad things start happening all at once. We lost our space…so we had to move. Then we moved into another space, but that kind of became untenable after a year as well…David and I were talking about doing a one-night-only Christmas benefit, and I said ‘How about this show?’ And now we’ve done it twice before, one night each. The second time we did this, the Jerry Sandusky scandal had just broken, and that added a whole other level of parallels.”
Black and Peryam discovered early in the process that they wanted to focus on the humanity of these, well, reindeer. They watched YouTube versions of some of the monologues and, Black explains, they decided that it was perhaps too easy “to play this show for laughs and really yuck it up…but if you really play the drama of it, it somehow actually ends up being funnier and still has a lot more gravitas.”
“We really wanted to strip away a lot of the ridiculousness of it and get to the truth-telling around who these people are and what they are,” says Peryam. “We don’t really make reference to the fact that they are reindeer other than using the single convention of the reindeer antlers. So it allows the raciness of the piece to happen, while still reminding us that these are reindeer, and it brings out both the dark and the silliness around it.”
Ultimately it was the darkness and edginess of the piece that drew Eagan to the project, she says. “Basically what the writer did was take the most beloved character in American folklore — and really around the world — and turns the fable on its head. What would happen if this beloved figure was really a monster? But it’s very funny, so as long as people aren’t too sensitive — and don’t bring their children — I hope it will make the audiences think and it will make them laugh”.
From the readings, Black says, she has learned that “if you don’t have the antlers on, it suddenly becomes Eugene O’Neill. But once those antlers are on, you can separate and sort of find the humor in it. ”
The one-by-one monologue structure of the play allowed Black the liberty to don both the actor and director hats for this piece, she says. “It’s much easier to pull double-duty with this piece because it’s monologues. I don’t think I could be acting in and directing a play if there were a whole lot of people onstage at the same time. I just don’t know how people do that.”
Eagan has continued stage work alongside her screen credits — she performed at South Coast Repertory in A View From the Bridge and On the Mountain and on Broadway in James Joyce’s The Dead and Les Misérables. She won an LA Weekly award for The Wild Party at the Blank. She says that “my best theater experiences in my entire career — which spans more than two decades — have been in Southern California. And I’m not being hyperbolic at all. The reason for that may be because the people who work in theater here in LA are so committed to it. Otherwise, why in the world would you keep doing it? It’s not like you can get rich…or even pay your bills.” She laughs.
For Black and Peryam, the struggles that the Alliance Repertory Company has faced these past few years — including losing its space to rent spikes, fleeting membership, and general financial hardships — have taken their toll. According to Peryam, the Alliance was founded in 1986 (long before he and Black were with the group) “by a handful of actors who all studied with the same acting teacher. They had such a positive experience working together that they created a company which focused on actors telling new stories. Over the years that has morphed and changed. Royana and I ended up in leadership positions about six or seven years ago, and then about four years ago we lost the space we’d had since 1986.”
As Royana tells it, her assumption of the artistic director position was like being promoted to the captain of a ship that was on a crash-course collision with an iceberg. “We were in our space in Burbank for other 17 years. And then the owner died, and his children who took over the space quadrupled our rent and basically said that we had 30 days to pay it. We were of course in the middle of producing a show at the time. So we quickly found a theater down the street that we could just rent for the duration of the show, and right at that point, the current artistic director decided to step down and she kind of said to me, ‘Hey! You know a lot about theater, why don’t you take over?’ I sort of unwittingly thought to myself ‘Sure, that sounds like an awesome title! Sure, I’ll do it!’ …And then we lost the space.
“So like every other theater in LA that’s been going through this, its been an upward battle. I don’t love the idea of dues-paying companies, but I understand now why its necessary, because that is the only reason why we were even able to get another space for a year…But then you have a certain obligation to make people feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, and that’s really difficult. And the process of maintaining a space became so tough because basically every cent of money that you have is going into paying rent, which then led to us not being able to produce anything, and then if you don’t produce anything, people wonder why they’re paying money, and a bunch of people left. So we had to cut it back to about a core group of 10 of us who just refused to let the company die. When we did the benefit of this play two years ago, we thought that maybe it was going to be our swan song.”
Serendipitously, it was actually Reindeer Monologues that saved the company. One of Black’s bosses at the investment firm she works for came to see the show that year and offered his assistance to get the company back on its feet. This partnership with Witzel View Entertainment has officially brought the Alliance Repertory Company out of its three-year hiatus, and it’s Black’s and Peryam’s hope that this production’s success will lead to further productions very soon.
For the time being, though, Black’s goal for this production is to give audiences a much-needed break from the madness of the holiday season. “People are so super-stressed this time of year, so if they can come and have a couple glasses of wine and laugh at reindeer, God bless! For an hour and a half, just come and enjoy the silliness. And if you happen to come away with some deeper meaning out of it, that’s great too!”
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood 90038. Opens tonight. Thu-Sat 8 pm. Through Dec 21. Tickets: $20. www.alliancerepertory.org. 323-596-1648.
**All The Eight: Reindeer Monologues production photos by Brad Hills.
Mary-Pat Green, Brian Dennehy and James Lancaster in “The Steward of Christendom.” Photo by Craig Schwartz.
2013 has been a good year for Mary-Pat Green in LA theater. In February she played the showstopping maid in Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels at Pasadena Playhouse, which drew this comment from LA Times reviewer Charlotte Stoudt: “The olive perfecting this dry martini is Mary-Pat Green as the Sterrolls’ new maid, who hilariously turns out to be the Most Interesting Woman in the World.” Green says that’s “the best line in a review I’ve ever gotten” — friends started jokingly referring to her as “Olive.” In October, she repeated that role, when most of the same production moved to Laguna Playhouse.
Now she’s appearing in The Steward of Christendom at Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum. In the 1995 Irish play by Sebastian Barry, Green plays Mrs. O’Dea, a compassionate widowed seamstress in the mental asylum where Thomas Dunne (Brian Dennehy) is spending his declining years reliving the vivid adventures of his youth.
Mary-Pat Green in the 2013 Pasadena Playhouse production of “Fallen Angels.”
Thomas Dunne is based on a real historical character — James Dunne, the chief superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and a Catholic loyal to the British crown at a time when Irish Protestants were fighting for their independence from British rule. Among his other duties, he was responsible for maintaining order in Dublin Castle, the headquarters of the British government in Ireland for more than 700 years. To make things even more difficult, he and his family lived there and were part of the “Castle Catholics” regarded with contempt by the revolutionaries.
In 1922 the outgoing British handed Dublin Castle over to Michael Collins, the leader of the Irish Republican Army during the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921 and subsequent leader of the Free State Army during the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923. Collins was assassinated in the late summer of 1922.
The Steward of Christendom begins in 1932, a decade after Dunne’s last days in office. In a program note, playwright Barry — a great-grandson of of the original James Dunne — described Thomas Dunne at that point in his life as “boggy in the head and thinner and unpredictable enough to have his grandchildren kept away from him.”
But apparently he is not frightening to Mrs. O’Dea, according to Mary-Pat Green. “He tells wonderful stories,” she says, “and reminds her of her late husband.” Playing Dunne, Dennehy “is a force of nature. It’s an amazing honor to work with him.”
In fact, Dennehy, whose character lives primarily in his memories, has “10 huge, long monologues and six or seven shorter ones. It’s a bear of a role, which is why not many actors play it…Sebastian Barry’s script is so gorgeous,” Green adds. “It’s poetic writing and it just works.” Steven Robman directs.
“We have Carla Meyer, one of the top dialogue coaches in the country, working with us,” Green notes. “And we have the additional help of Smith, played by cast member James Lancaster, who is himself from Ireland. So we’re in good hands.”
Green was born in Kansas City — but with Irish roots in County Cavan, from her father’s family. Her “incredible parents” supported her decision to leave the University of Kansas at 20 to “follow my passion for musical theater” to New York. Once there, she studied at the Herbert Berghof Studios. But her “amazing education” took off when she answered a non-Equity casting call and won a part in Godspell in 1971.
“We toured for a year, changing venues every one or two nights,” she says. “We played in civic centers and universities and other public places, and everywhere we went the stage was different, and we had to reinvent the blocking and try not to trip over the set.”
In 1979, Green was in the original Broadway cast of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. She played Mrs. Mooney, the pie shop owner who ”put pussies in her pies” — not to be confused with her pie shop rival, Mrs. Lovett, played by Lansbury, who put chunks of Sweeney Todd’s victims in herpies. “It just doesn’t happen that you get to work with Hal Prince, Stephen Sondheim, and Angela Lansbury all at the same time,” Green recalls. “I was incredibly fortunate.” She still harbors a hope that one day she can play Mrs. Lovett.
Green had also spent a year and a half in Hal Prince’s 1974 Broadway revival of Candide. Later, she performed the role of Mother Superior in Nunsense more than 1500 times in Off-Broadway and multiple regional productions. She was the second person to play that part in a series that has been running for decades.
In 1989, she was cast in Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge, a show that was meant to be a “continuation” of the earlier mega-hit Annie. Dorothy Loudon, the original Miss Hannigan, was set to reprise that role, but the misbegotten plot had her escaping from prison and plotting to murder Annie.
“Previews began on December 22 at the Kennedy Center in Washington,” Green explains, “and everyone brought their little girls to see it.” (According to reports, there were 700 children in the audience for that first preview.) “And it was a disaster. Nobody wanted to see a musical in which the child star gets kidnapped and possibly murdered!” Annie 2 opened in Washington on January 4 and closed on January 15 after 36 performances.
In 1991 Green moved to Los Angeles because she wanted to try TV and films, and since then she has worked steadily in both mediums. “The ’90s were a great time for sitcoms,” she says, “and my theater skills turned out to be very helpful.”
Mary-Pat Green and Brian Dennehy in “The Steward of Christendom”
“But now,” she laments, “reality shows have made it a dark time for actors on TV.”
She notes that she plays “either prison inmates or judges, policewomen or murderers” but is most often recognized for the bathroom scene in the film My Best Friend’s Wedding where she calls Julia Roberts a tramp. “People come up to me on the street and holler ‘Tramp!’”.
She still loves musical theater. In 1995 she was nominated for an Ovation award for her role in the musical Chess. And in 2002 she played journalist Lorena Hickok, purported to be Eleanor Roosevelt’s lover, in Michael John LaChiusa’s First Lady Suite. Both plays were produced by the Blank Theatre.
Green even got to bring her musical talents to the non-musical Fallen Angels this year. Art Manke, who directed it in both Pasadena and Laguna Beach, expanded the musical range of her maid character to include songs in French and German. He retrieved the French song from the Coward archives, Green says, and he allowed her to fashion her own song in another language — they picked German because she had a friend who could translate “Get Happy” into German, which she performed Lotte Lenya-style.
She asks, “How could I not enjoy playing a know-it-all maid?”
But for anyone who might expect her to be as funny in The Steward of Christendom as she was in Fallen Angels, she strikes a cautionary note. In her current play, “I’m jolly, but I’m not really funny.”
The Steward of Christendom, Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave. Los Angeles. Opens Sunday 7 pm. Tue-Fri 8 pm, Sat 2:30 pm and 8 pm, Sun 1 pm and 6:30 pm through January 5. Also Mondays Dec 23 and 30 at 8 pm. No performances Dec 24 and 25 and Jan 1. Tickets: $20-$70. www.CenterTheatreGroup.org. 213-628-2772.
**All The Steward of Christendom production photos by Craig Schwartz.
Megan Rippey, Sol Mason, Paul Sand and Shay Astar in “Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel.” Photo by Agi Magyari.
Santa Monica denizen Paul Sand has a special affinity for one of the local attractions — the jolly fun fair situated along the wooden length of Santa Monica Pier. His Mexican father and Russian mother met and fell in love on the 104-year-old landmark, says the quirky actor/director/producer.
Sand took his first wobbly steps as a toddler on its uneven boards, and he even lived above the carousel when he was a teen. Recalls Sand, “After I graduated high school, I lived there with my girl friend, Joan Rose, over the merry-go-round. The rooms were round — it had round bedrooms and a round living room, and you constantly heard calliope music going.” He laughs.
Now Sand is putting on an artistic director’s hat and starting a new theater company, creating a pop-up cabaret venue on that same pier, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Calling it the West End Theatre, he plans to transform an observation deck at the end of the pier into a “mysterious, waterfront cabaret-style performing space.” The stage will be set and struck every night in a narrow, enclosed space upstairs above the Mariasol Restaurant.
The performance space is intimate, with room for 50-60 seats at the most. Sand anticipates that the presentation, entitled Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel, will consist of a 45-minute performance of a collection of the famed German composer’s songs. “With our theatrical lighting and the performers and the ocean outside, I want to make it a hypnotic show,” Sand murmurs. “I want to get the audience under my spell and keep them there.”
An amiable fellow with a note of mischief in his drawn-out vowels, Sand is perhaps best known for his numerous appearances in TV shows since the mid-’50s. He often played a rumpled, sad-sack characters on comedies such as TheMary Tyler Moore Show, his own short-lived CBS series Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers, Taxi, The Carol Burnett Show, right through to L.A. Law, The X Files and Curb Your Enthusiasm. At a young age he studied with Marcel Marceau in Paris and performed comedy at Chicago’s Second City.
In 1970 Sand was at the Mark Taper Forum in Paul Sills’ Story Theatre, which won an LADCC production award. A year later, Sand won a Tony Award for best performance by a featured actor in a play and a Drama Desk award for his multi-character roles in the same production’s Broadway run. He also won a second Drama Desk Award for his appearance in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, which played on Broadway in repertory with Paul Sills’ Story Theatre. Last year Sand directed David Mamet’s teenaged daughter Clara’s first plays, Paris and The Solvit Kids at Ruskin Group in Santa Monica.
The site for his new theater company certainly holds a special appeal. With its carousel from the 1920s and other rides, an aquarium, numerous novelty shops, local entertainers, a video arcade, a trapeze school, a pub, and restaurants, the Santa Monica Pier is a popular destination for tourists and locals. The far end of the pier is frequented by anglers. Additionally, the bright lights of the solar-powered Ferris wheel and lilting strains of calliope music creates a wild, carnival atmosphere — the perfect location, insists Sand, for a production of Kurt Weill’s edgy songs, “all about revenge, murder and broken hearts.”
Sol Mason and Paul Sand. Photo by Jamie Virostko.
Muses Sand, “The pier is so strange and so wonderful and so mysterious. I can see it from where I live right now. I take walks there, and one night I was walking with some friends, and I said, ‘wouldn’t this be a great place to open a little theater’” that would use some of Weill’s “dark and theatrical songs?”
Sand had previously met the deputy director of the pier, Jim Harris, through mutual friends. Recalls Sand, “He’s a wonderful guy. I called him up and told him about my idea. He told me, ‘We’ve been wanting theater on the pier, and we know your work and your history. I happen to have an available space at the far west end. It hangs out over the ocean and it gets pretty wild up there sometimes… Do you want that space?’”
Sand jumped at the chance. He tried crowd-sourcing on Indiegogo but failed to raise the budget for the inaugural show. He eventually gained a small grant from a discreet local foundation. “At the last minute I heard about this foundation, so I called them up and spoke to this nice lady. She told me I’d better get my application in fast because it all will be closing down in two weeks.” Fortunately he made it under the wire. “I improvised a budget and I got the grant. We got enough to put on the show.”
Assembling a cast proved ridiculously easy, as well, with the entire company formed in two weeks. “It all happened so effortlessly. It’s just weird,” he marvels. Sand says he had seen performers over the past few years who had caught his attention. “Not stars or anything, but people who I thought were vivid and exciting personalities. I had made circles around their name in the programs. Then I found them and asked them and they said yes.”
Paul Sand and Shay Astar
As well as directing, Sand will perform alongside cast members Megan Rippey, Shay Astar and Sol Mason, who plays the narrator and host in this shady waterfront cabaret. Michael Roth, whom Sand calls “insanely perfect,” is the music director. “He’s a specialist in Kurt Weill, luckily enough. He’s so intense, in a great way, and a perfectionist. So this is not just kidding around.” Sand describes himself as “a nice director, I think, but sometimes I lose my temper…”
One of the musicians Sand has enlisted is Tamboura, a “kid from Silver Lake” whom he’d heard busking on the pier. “I’m walking down the pier one afternoon, and I hear this beautiful violin music — this kid is standing there playing perfect violin. I put a few dollars in the hat thing, and then I thought and thought and finally I called James Harris. I asked him, ‘You know how to find these people that are musicians on the Pier, right?’ He did, so I drove to Silver Lake and talked to him. He said, ‘Yes, I love Kurt Weill. Yeah, I’ll do it’.”
Musical accompaniment will include cello and a harmonium. “We rented a piano and it’s just been moved up there,” says Sand. Some of Weill’s best-known songs are on the program: “Mack the Knife,” “Pirate Jenny” and “Barbara Song” from The Threepenny Opera, which Weill penned with Bertolt Brecht; “Surabaya Johnny” from “Happy End;” and “Luck Song,” also known as “The Insufficiency of Human Behavior.” The finale will be “The Alabama Song” from “Mahagonny,” also written with Brecht and performed by the entire company.
“We’re all actor-singers,” says Sand, the excitement building in his voice. “There’s one song I really want to do. It’s the ‘Forgiveness’ song.” Sand is referring to “Call From The Grave/Ballad In Which MacHeath Begs All Men For Forgiveness,” from The Threepenny Opera. “It’s so evil!” he laughs.
To create the right ambience in his new theater, Sand hired surrealist painter Marie Lalanne to design costumes and sets. She has created landscape paintings on large canvas panels that will be hung behind the stage. “It will give it this wonderful carnival atmosphere and we’ll take them down after the second show every night. And then they’ll never know, in the morning, that we were even there,” he adds enigmatically.
If this first show proves a success, Sand anticipates more productions. “I do have my next ideas. I want to stay with the theme of ‘waterfront scary’.”
Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel, West End Theatre, Santa Monica Pier. Opens this Friday, 7:30 pm. No performance Sat Dec. 7. Then Fri-Sat 7:30 and 9 pm Dec. 13, 14, 20 and 21 (with the possibility of an extension) Through Dec. 21. Tickets: $20. www.eventbrite.com/event/8804429285.
Guys, why are the holidays so stressful? You’d think that with all the turkey dinners, the Black Fridays and the Cyber Mondays and the crisp LA weather, we’d be plump, relaxed, and reveling in our discount indulgences, but alas. It’s like December shows up and says HERE! YOU MUST DO ALL THE THINGS!
I cannot, boys and girls, do all the things. But you should. Go out into the world and jump from event to event like keen little pervasive elves. Here are five choices. Choose wisely. (Or recklessly. Just choose.)
RELIGION & THE ARTS
With Chanukah underway and Christmas on the horizon, this seems the appropriate season to discuss the intersection of religion and the arts. LA STAGE Alliance and Theatre of NOTE are co-hosting a discussion about how these two cultural cornerstones work together (or, how they do not). The panel takes place on Tuesday, December 17 (my birthday!) at 7 pm. The event is free, but don’t forget to RSVP.
Theatre 40 is presenting a night of holiday-themed poems, essays, and stories at Westwood Library on Saturday, December 21 at 2 pm. Love it. The readers include Katherine Henryk, Daniel Leslie, Melanie Macqueen, David Reynolds, and James Schendel.
The Hollywood Fringe has already started gearing up for its registration for next summer’s festival. It starts with a meeting to discuss improving venue recruitment. You can help get the ball rolling at Theatre Asylum this Saturday, December 7 at 5 pm. (And, for your 2014 calendar, registration opens on February 1.)
IF YOUR HOLIDAY SPIRIT IS BAROQUE
Ha. See what I did with the title? I’m a clever elf, too.
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is doing a holiday-themed concert this Thursday featuring critically acclaimed virtuoso John Schneiderman playing lute and Baroque guitar. (This is the first in a series of five concerts taking place through out the next six months.) A complimentary wine reception for all ticket holders begins at 6 pm, and the concert starts at 7 pm.
Trisha Hershberger, Gina Yates and Julia Silverman in “Mom’s Gift.” Photo by Sherry Netherland.
I wrote my first play when I was 40.
I’m not sure if there’s a typical career path for playwrights, but if there is, I didn’t follow it. I grew up in Edina, Minnesota, majored in math at Dartmouth College, played football, then tried out for the Chicago Bears. I really wanted to be a pro football player, but unfortunately the Bears weren’t on board with that plan. They placed me on waivers after a month in training camp with Walter Payton, so I enrolled at the University of Chicago and got an MBA from its business school.
My entry into writing came while I was working in commercial real estate in Tampa, Florida. One of my clients asked me if I would perform in a “Shoot — Don’t Shoot” training film for the Tampa police. Even though I had no experience acting, there were several pretty actresses that I would be working with, so I said yes.
The scenario of my first scene was a domestic dispute with my wife, in which we would argue and then she would shoot me. When I asked to see the script, I was told there wasn’t one. I would just have to improvise. So my first experience with writing came in improvising my own death. From there I got the acting bug and started doing sketch comedy and theater in Florida, while still working in commercial real estate.
Thinking I was going to be the next great screenwriter, I moved to Los Angeles to seek fame and fortune. I sold a couple of screenplays that never got made, and I script-doctored three screenplays that were produced — but nothing big. I really wanted to get something produced that I had created, and because plays are easier to get produced than screenplays, I decided to write my first play.
They say to write what you know, and growing up in Minnesota in an emotionally reserved Scandinavian household gave me a lot of material. My father would tell us that he was the Norwegian who loved his wife so much, he almost told her. That line is the basis for much of my writing. In one of my Don’t Hug Me musicals, Clara asks her husband, “Gunner, tell me you love me.” He replies, “Oh, for crying in the sink, Clara. I told you I loved you when we got married. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.”
I’m a big fan of quirky, small-cast musicals, especially those that have a regional flavor such as Pump Boys and Dinettes. My four Don’t Hug Me musicals that I wrote with my brother, Paul, were inspired by the lake our family would visit in Minnesota as well as the characters I knew growing up. I enjoy writing the quirky, broad Don’t Hug Me musicals. They’re very popular around the country, and I’ll keep writing them. In fact, a fifth Don’t Hug Me musical will open next year.
Once in a while, however, I take a break from the Don’t Hug Me musicals and write something from the heart. I wrote my play A Nice Family Gathering in 2000, after my dad passed away. It was a very personal story for me.
Mom’s Gift is another departure from my quirky musicals. Unlike the broad Don’t Hug Me comedies, Mom’s Gift is a dramedy. My mother passed away in 2006 from breast cancer. It was a very emotional time for me. It took me six years to be able to start writing Mom’s Gift after she died, but I knew I wanted to do something for her, so I started writing the play in 2012.
Cyrus Alexander and Chris Winfield
In the play, Mom has been dead for 11 months and shows up at her husband’s birthday party as a ghost with a mission. Like Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life, she has to accomplish a task to earn her wings. Only what the task actually is, is a mystery. There are so many things to fix.
Although Mom’s Gift isn’t about my real family, the character of Mom in the play has qualities similar to my mother, and some of the lines are things she said. My mother had a wonderful sense of humor until the end. She was faced with tragedy and could still laugh, and I admired that. I don’t know if I could do that.
I wanted to capture that spirit in the play by combining a very tragic event with comedy. The comedy in Mom’s Gift is not broad, but it comes from a very real place, from the tragedy of the underlying story. In Mom’s Gift we have equal parts comedy and pathos.
In addition to Mom’s mission to “get her wings,” it’s a story about second chances, miscommunication, forgiveness, and moving on when a loved one dies. There are also a few twists in the play that will surprise the audience. I’ve done several readings of the play, and no one yet has seen the surprises coming.
With Mom’s Gift, it was important to me that people feel something when they leave the theater. My hope is that the audience goes through the same emotions, the same ups and downs that the characters are feeling on stage. Based on rehearsals, I think it’s going to be a three-hanky play with some very funny moments. It’s the kind of story my mother would enjoy seeing.
Mom’s Gift, Group Rep, 10900 Burbank Blvd, North Hollywood 91601. OpensFriday. Fri-Sat 8 pm; Sun 2 pm. Through Jan. 19. Tickets: $22.www.thegrouprep.com. 818-763-5990.
**All Mom’s Gift production photos by Sherry Netherland.
Phil Olson has 13 published plays that have had more than 300 productions around the US. Canada, and Australia. Mom’s Gift will be his seventh play published by Samuel French. The others include, Don’t Hug Me, A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol, A Don’t Hug Me County Fair, Don’t Hug Me I’m Pregnant, A Nice Family Gathering, and Polyester The Musical. Watch for Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married to open in 2014.
LA Weekly’s theater coverage is being slashed as of January 1.
The number of capsule theater reviews per week will drop from the current non-holiday norm of seven (allocated) or eight (sometimes allowed) to only two. The publication’s deputy editor for arts and culture, Zachary Pincus-Roth, said he preferred the phrase “around two” — he allowed for some “flexibility each week, depending on what’s happening.” But it’s safe to say that the Weekly’s free-lance reviewers will find their compensation severely reduced.
Steven Leigh Morris’ commentaries on theater will appear every other week, instead of every week, and the length of those essays will drop from 1,200 words to 800. On the weeks when Morris’ column doesn’t appear, the space will be occupied by articles about other stage-related arts such as dance, comedy, classical music and opera.
Morris says he doesn’t expect the current listings to be reduced, except that a much smaller proportion of them will include a capsule review. The two reviews that appear each week will probably be written by at least some of those who are currently the Weekly’s free-lance reviewers — Pauline Adamek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell, Mindy Farabee, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Jenny Lower and Neal Weaver — but those reviews will now be assigned by Pincus-Roth instead of Morris. Pincus-Roth said that the listings also will be accompanied by more small, reported articles about the arts.
Pincus-Roth has some experience as a free-lance theater reviewer himself — for Newsday in New York, he says. He also covered theater as a reporter for Variety and other publications in New York, even serving as a Tony voter one year, before moving to LA in 2007. Here, he estimated that he goes to the theater “once a week or once every other week.”
Morris called the cutbacks “disheartening,” but he said he believed that the local Weekly management “has done everything in its power to keep that section vibrant for a long time. Those days are over.”
Pincus-Roth, however, denied that the decision was made solely by the Weekly’s corporate overseers — Denver-based Voice Media Group, which in September 2012 was spun off from the Weekly’s previous owner, Village Voice Media Holdings.
“It was a local decision, basically,” ultimately made by the Weekly’s editor Sarah Fenske, Pincus-Roth said. “This decision was hers, based on the budget.”
Steven Leigh Morris. Photo by Eric Schwabel.
The cuts are “obviously disappointing,” Pincus-Roth said, but he emphasized that the theater free-lance budget has been much larger than the free-lance budget for most other coverage areas. “We will take this opportunity to think about what we’re doing to cover other areas” such as comedy, dance, and classical music in the hopes of making the total coverage of the arts “more comprehensive.”
The Weekly plans to continue the annual LA Weekly awards for achievement in theaters with fewer than 100 seats, although the adjudication process may change after January 1 if fewer critics are seeing fewer shows. The cutbacks are not expected to affect the next LA Weekly awards, scheduled for April.
Morris is investigating a plan to take the Stage Raw brand, which has been used to identify the Weekly’s theater blog, to its own website, with the help of community-based fund-raising, but nothing has been settled. Underlying the effort, he said, is the question: “Is there sufficient need to justify the cost?”
The cuts at the Weekly will apparently leave the Los Angeles Times as LA’s print publication that runs the most theater reviews. Although the number of Times theater reviews has been drastically cut in recent years, the Times ran 17 LA-area theater reviews in November (plus a review of Sleeping Beauty, if you want to include an imported dance production that was presented by a local theater-oriented company). After January, the Weekly could possibly reach that level of coverage only if Morris devotes considerable space within his column to commenting on shows that aren’t reviewed by free-lancers.
NO SHORTENING, NO SKATING: This is from the “About Us” page of the website of the LA Weekly’s parent company Voice Media Group (VMG): “While an increasing number of daily papers shorten stories and hire consultants to tell them what to print, VMG papers thrive by cultivating source networks, generating truly original story ideas, and digging into stories rather than skating across their surface.”
TWO FROM SCANDINAVIA: Here comes the winter gloom. But before we’re diverted from the meaning of that transition by the lights of the holidays and by the sometimes spectacular qualities of LA winters, let’s turn our attention briefly to Scandinavia, where the denizens know winter much more deeply than we do
No one ever accused Scandinavia’s two most famous playwrights, Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, of being too light and summery. Although Strindberg’s Creditors is technically set in a Scandinavian summer, it’s metaphorically set in the winter of the soul, and so is Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. Each of these is currently in production in LA.
Justin Lujan, Natasha Harris and Shannon Nelson in “Save Me.” Photo by David Nett.
The seldom-seen Creditors, at the Odyssey Theatre, has received more of the attention, so I’m going to begin with Save Me, an adaptation of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, which will play one more weekend at the Dorie Theatre in Theater Row’s Complex. It was conceived and directed by Valerie Rachelle and written by Rachelle and Rick Robinson for the recently-dormant but now-resuscitated Lucid by Proxy company.
Rachelle has set the play in contemporary America, apparently in some state with a legislature that uses the name “Assembly” for one of its two halves. Gee, that might be California, right? The Save Me state isn’t specifically identified as our own, but it’s easy to imagine that Rachelle is thinking about California.
Despite this re-setting, Rachelle sticks surprisingly close to the Hedda Gabler script. Sure, some of the cosmetic details have changed. This Hedda doesn’t go into the next room to play the piano — she goes there to listen more intently to recordings such as Aretha Franklin’s rendition of “Save Me.” She refrains from such self-consciously antique references as “vine leaves in his hair” and isn’t afraid to indulge in a little profanity.
In a more significant change, Rachelle breaks the realistic surface of the action with brief interludes in which Hedda — and sometimes other characters — wordlessly move to the sounds of Aretha and others, non-verbally expressing what’s going on inside their brains. You can think of these as very short daydreams, appropriately set off with more concentrated lighting. The stifling repression that’s apparent in most of the play is momentarily broken, perhaps appropriately so for a perhaps-California version.
Does this dilute the play’s pressure-cooker quality and make the final explosion less surprising? Well, it might for those who have never seen Hedda Gabler. For those of us who have seen it more than once, these additions provide an unexpected and lively portal into the subconscious and the subtext. And, when the final climax occurred on Saturday night, I still found my jaw dropping as if in shock — even though I knew exactly what was going to happen.
Shannon Nelson and Jack Sochet
It’s true that a couple of narrative factors are less plausible nowadays than they would have been in 19th-century Norway. Evan, the new name for the tortured novelist who once had a fling with Hedda and now is toying with Hedda’s former classmate Thea, still keeps the manuscript of his novel only in the format of one typed, paper copy, attempting to explain that choice by referring to himself as a Luddite. But while an old and famous author might still be able to pull off not having a digital copy, it’s hard to imagine that a young and unpublished novelist would even think of such an option.
More important, in 2013 it’s difficult to take seriously Hedda’s airy dismissal of the notion that she might vary her bored days by seeking outside employment. True, she has apparently been pampered (her father in this version was an apparently-disgraced ex-senator — it isn’t clear if that meant a US senator or a state senator.) But even wealthy heiresses nowadays usually make at least a pretense of trying to find an interesting job. That this Hedda wouldn’t do so makes her manipulations of everyone else look more like the symptoms of a mental basket case than like the products of a pre-feminist wife who has no healthy outlets for her self-expression.
Still, Rachelle’s staging has a gut-wrenching effectiveness, aided immeasurably by an incendiary performance as Hedda by Shannon Nelson — who impressed me earlier this year as the Sally Brown “little sister” character in Absoluely Filthy. Nelson receives sterling support from her five onstage colleagues. Save Me is scheduled for only two more performances.
Meanwhile, across town at the Odyssey Theatre, I finally got to the New American Theatre’s version of Strindberg’s Creditors. And I’m glad I did, especially on the same weekend that I saw Save Me. Jack Stehlin’s character in Creditors is a bitter manipulator almost on the scale of Hedda, but look at this — his Gustav, unlike his female counterpart in Ibsen’s play, doesn’t become suicidal. He more or less remains in control.
Jack Stehlin and Burt Grinstead in “Creditors.” Photo by Ron Sossi.
Unfortunately, Creditors isn’t nearly as good a play as Hedda Gabler. While Ibsen built a sturdy narrative with many developments gradually building and interweaving en route to the final scene, Creditors ends on an abrupt and somewhat baffling and unexplained note that denies us the chance to see its three characters interacting with each other at the same time.
But that’s not the fault of director David Trainer or Stehlin or his co-stars Burt Grinstead and Heather Anne Prete, nor presumably of the translator David Greig. New American Theatre’s return to the Odyssey is in good hands, even if the vehicle has inherent flaws.
Edward Tournier, Joey deBettencourt and Carl Howell in “Peter and the Starcatcher.” Photo by Jenny Anderson.
En route to an eagerly anticipated LA homecoming, Edward Tournier has found himself aboard a fictional vessel called Neverland in a play inspired by J.M. Barrie’s vintage Peter Pan script and his Peter and Wendy novel. The national tour of the comedy-adventure Peter and the Starcatcher makes its LA debut at Center Theatre Group‘s Ahmanson Theatre on Wednesday.
Tournier, who lived in Los Angeles for seven years before moving to New York last February, makes his national tour debut in this fanciful prequel to a classic.
Barrie’s 1904 play Peter and Wendy was the basis for Walt Disney’s classic animated film Peter Pan as well as a perennially popular musical of the same name, which has traditionally featured high-flying gender-bending performances by the likes of Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan, and Cathy Rigby as the titular young boy, an airborne sprite who could never grow up.
Aside from a group of urchins — the Lost Boys — Peter/Boy is the only character from the Barrie originals to appear in Starcatcher, which was created by librettist Rick Elice, based on the novelPeter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The Tony-nominated co-directors of the original Broadway production and the tour are Roger Rees and Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson). Original music is by Wayne Barker.
The Broadway production earned Tonys for Christian Borle (actor in a featured role), Darron L. West (sound design), Paloma Young (costumes), Donyale Werle (scenic design), and Jeff Croiter (lighting).
Starcatchers follows the adventures of an orphan, Peter, who finds love, friendship, and ultimately himself on a faraway island. A 12-actor ensemble plays more than 100 characters. Tournier appears as one of the Lost Boys, named Ted. He describes the character as “an orphan, like Peter. He’s always hungry because he has sort of been malnourished in the orphanage. He’s a very sweet, innocent character, but he has a great-sized appetite for just about anything. It’s a comedic role, so it’s a lot of fun to play.”
Touring with Tournier
Tournier was born in Paris 30 years ago but was moved to the US when he was three years old. Raised near Boston, he’s a graduate of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, and also studied at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.
His recent segue from LA to the magical land of Barrie was swift, following his relocation to New York to seek new acting opportunities. He moved to New York in February, and “we started rehearsals in July. I had started auditioning a bit in New York [in late 2012], and Starcatcher had been my very first audition there. It was for the Off-Broadway production [of Starcatcher], currently running at New World Stages.” He wasn’t cast in that production, but a few months later he was called back to accept his role in the tour edition.
Speaking from the tour engagement in San Francisco, he says, “We opened in mid-August in Denver. So this is about our fourth month now. Right now, the tour is slated through June of next year.”
Has he enjoyed his first experience in a national tour? “Definitely. I did some tours when I was in Boston, but that was just to a few different cities near there.” He hadn’t seen a production of this play, but he was quite familiar with it. He notes, “A college classmate of mine was in the original production, so I have sort of tracked the play, but I had not seen it when I auditioned. I finally went to see it and I was blown away. It was like nothing I had ever seen, so I was really excited to do it.”
He elaborates. “The ensemble of actors works together to use physical theater techniques and props and unconventional ways of storytelling. So much of the fun is how it relies on the collaborative imagination of both the actors and audience, which is obviously very fitting for a story like Peter Pan.”
Joey deBettencourt, Carl Howell and Edward Tournier in the current “Peter and the Starcatcher” tour company. Photo by Jenny Anderson.
As for the experience of being in a touring production, Tournier cites its demanding aspects: “It’s a rigorous schedule. We’re doing eight shows a week, but you add in the element of travel, and being in new cities sometimes every week, or just for a couple of days, and living in hotels, and getting used to each new city.” He says the company members are becoming very close due to sharing living quarters and constantly working together. “It’s a real family that develops,” he says.
He also finds it “fun to get to present the play to different audiences, more than just night to night, but from city to city. Every city has its own sort of personality.” He points out that “different audiences grasp different elements of the play in different ways.” He’s impressed that the show “keeps being fresh, despite performing it eight times a week and for a couple of hundred performances.” He had never done so many performances of one production, and he is interested in discovering how his performance evolves over that period.
He acknowledges that working in so many cities and meeting so many people could also lead to career networking opportunities. “We have been to some great theater towns. Most major American cities have vibrant theater communities.” He believes that Peter attracts theater lovers due to its theatricality, and because “anyone involved in the theater knows it’s a very innovative play. And it had a lot of success with the design Tony Awards.” He points out that the play includes a lot of jokes that “are sort of winks to people who are familiar with and live in live theater.”
Tournier has never acted in New York, and he says he moved there to pursue new career opportunities. Though he has done several television and film roles while in LA, he says he has always preferred theater. “I was doing a lot of theater in LA. And I love that theater community. My seven years in LA were a big part of my life.” He says that both professionally and artistically, “it was everything that I sort of wanted. But I have looked to New York to try something new and because I had never lived there. I wanted to see what it was all about.”
John Glover and Edward Tournier in the 2008 Black Dahlia Theatre production of “Secrets of the Trade.” Photo by Eb Brooks.
During his years in LA, Tournier achieved a lot of rewarding and acclaimed work, including acting nominations from Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly, the Ovations, the Back Stage Garlands, and GLAAD. He mentions that something he hadn’t set out to do but nonetheless happened is that most of his stage acting roles so far have been in new plays.
One achievement that immediately comes to his mind as a favorite is the Black Dahlia’s premiere of Jonathan Tolins’ bittersweet Secrets of the Trade, in which he played opposite John Glover. Tournier played an ambitious young man who forges a relationship with a famous middle-aged actor-director (Glover), who becomes his mentor. “This was a powerful experience, and a great introduction to the LA theater community for me,” he notes. “It was also one of the hardest plays I did there.”
He adds, “It enjoyed a lot of success. It’s a wonderful, smart, funny piece that moved a lot of people. To this day, people still approach me about it. And the play went on to New York, so it had some staying power.” He points out that working with director Matt Shakman and the Dahlia cast and crew fostered connections that “remain to this day.”
He also cites needtheater’s Mercury Fur, calling it a “wonderful play at the totally opposite end of the spectrum — so dark and scary.” He says, “It was a “great experience. And the design stayed with me. A lot of the time what lasts is the collaboration of all of the different pieces, which add up to make the production memorable. I always admire the work of designers. Starcatcher is another play for which the design is really a beauty.”
Also among his favorite experiences here were his productions with Rogue Machine, including his well-received performances in Razorback, Monkey Adored, and Where the Great Ones Run. Joining the company from its inception as a founding member, he ultimately served as producing director for one season and produced a few other shows as well. He says, “These guys are really my family in LA,. and they do incredible work. I’m sure you know that John Pollono’s [multi-award winning] Small Engine Repair [which premiered at Rogue Machine in 2011] just opened Off-Broadway [to much critical acclaim], which is so exciting.”
Edward Tournier in the 2011 Rogue Machine production of “Monkey Adored.” Photo by John Flynn.
He continues, “The work I did there and the friendships I made there will last a lifetime. I’m so glad to get back to LA now to spend some time with them.” He’s grateful for the behind-the-scenes skills he learned at Rogue Machine: “I think when you act for a long time, you sort of start to get into the whole production end. The opportunity to direct and produce makes you a more complete theater artist.”
Among other LA companies where Tournier has performed are Theatre @ Boston Court (Futura), Theatre of NOTE (They’re Just Like Us), an Ensemble Studio Theatre and Getty Villa co-production (The Vesuvius Prophecies), Pacific Stages (Lobby Hero), and Odyssey Theatre (Small Tragedy).
Peter is not Tournier’s first experience at the Ahmanson. His first play in LA in 2007, shortly after he moved here, was that company’s production of The History Boys. He was cast as a cover for three parts and he appeared briefly in one non-speaking scene at each performance. He says, “I was so excited to be a part of that, and so I am excited to get back to the Ahmanson. I met a lot of people there and got acquainted with the theater community at that time.”
He mentions a person he met at the Ahmanson who supports his belief that the LA theater community overlaps in many ways. Lindsay Allbaugh, who became a “great friend’ to him, is one of the two artistic directors of Elephant Theatre Company, for which she directed him in the highly acclaimed Supernova.He triumphed in the role of a rebellious teenager in this heartrending kitchen-sink drama, reminiscent of the works of William Inge.
Allbaugh is also producing associate at Center Theatre Group, and as part of that job “she was involved in bringing Peter to the Ahmanson, so I now get to work with her in a totally unrelated way. It’s great. I’m so happy getting to come back to LA. It’s one of the highlights of the tour for me.”
Joey deBettencourt, Edward Tournier and Benjamin Schrader in “Peter and the Starcatcher”
He points out one additional example of apparent serendipity: “My very first play when I was 10 years old was Peter Pan, at Winchester Cooperative Theater in my home town of Winchester, Massachusetts. I did it because my sister had done it, so I sort of lived up to her example. I was a Lost Boy, but with no lines. So that’s another way this production is sort of a coming-home cycle for me.”
Tournier acknowledges that his first love in the creative arts remains acting, particularly in theater: “I was extremely lucky and blessed to be cast in [Peter], though I haven’t spent a lot of time in New York yet. So I am interested in discovering what that theater scene is like and to hopefully get to keep doing plays.”
Peter and the Starcatcher, Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave, LA. Opens Wednesday.Tue-Fri 8 pm, Sat 2 pm and 8 pm, Sun 1 pm and 6:30 pm. (Several schedule exceptions and added performances.) Through Jan 12. Tickets: $20-110 (subject to change). www.centertheatregroup.org. 213 972-4400.
**All Peter and the Starcatcher production photos by Jenny Anderson.
Pasadena Playhouse is hosting a Dec 16 forum, titled “Diversity: Through the Director’s Eye” — exploring the current state of diversity in Southern California theater. Organized by Stage Directors and Choreographers Workshop Foundation, Pasadena Playhouse, and East West Players, the discussions will focus on the director’s role, probing these questions: “What’s working? What aren’t we doing? How can we work together to increase diversity in Southern California theater?” Moderated by Michael John Garcés (Cornerstone Theater Company), panelists will include artistic directors Tim Dang (East West Players), Sheldon Epps (Pasadena Playhouse), Jessica Kubzansky (Theatre @ Boston Court), Marc Masterson (South Coast Repertory), Michael Ritchie (Center Theatre Group), and Seema Sueko (Pasadena Playhouse and Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company). The panel is free to the public. To attend, RSVP to DiversityForum@SDCweb.org…As the second outing of its 2013-14 season at Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre, Furious Theatre Company — in association with Artists Repertory Theatre (ART) in Portland — is offering Foxfinder, “a futuristic parable,” scripted by Dawn King, helmed by ART artistic director and Furious co-founder Dámaso Rodriguez, opening Jan 8. Foxfinder was originally staged at Finborough Theatre, London, in 2011 and is playing in Portland through Dec 1…Also in Pasadena, A Noise Within (ANW)is extending its revival ofFerenc Molnár’s 1910 farce The Guardsman, translated by Frank Marcus, helmed by Michael Michetti, now running through Dec 2…
PREMIERES…Rachel Rosenthal Company is debuting Instant Fairy Tales -– “a quarterly series of original fairy tales for the 21st century.” The inaugural work, The Longest Winter — an allegorical tale about learning to care for the environment — opens Jan 25 at Espace DbD on South Robertson Blvd in Los Angeles…Following two years in development, Vickie Ramirez’s Stand-Off at HWY #37 -– “a tale about political, environmental and spiritual convictions” –- is premiering at Wells Fargo Theater in the Autry National Center in Griffith Park, helmed by Playwrights’ Arena artistic director Jon Lawrence Rivera, produced by Native Voices at the Autry, opening Feb 28…And Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks is presenting Hollywood Shorts, an evening of original 10 minute plays –- focusing on everyday life — scripted by established television writers, featuring 19 actors, produced by Jake O’Flaherty, opening Jan 8. The eight playwrights include; Bill Diamond (Murphy Brown), Bird York (Crash), Norm Gunzenhauser (Newhart), Gary Dontzig (A Different World), Wayne and Kate Robbins (TV Pilots), Russ Woody (Drew Carey Show) and Ed Horowitz (La Femme Nikita). Directors include Moosie Drier, Bryan Rasmussen and Bird York…
IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK…Providing a darker view on the holiday season,The Visceral Company is presenting Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s The Mystery Plays -– a sojourn within “the most profound of human ideas and beliefs, inspired by the yuletide tradition of the medieval mystery plays” –- helmed by Christopher Basile, opening Dec 6 at Lex Theatre in Hollywood…Acme Theatre in Hollywood is hosting Sparkle! An All-Star Holiday Concert, produced and hosted by Scott Nevins with Jesse Vargas as music director, Fri Dec 13. The talent lineup includes Tony nominee Andrew Rannells (Book of Mormon), singer/actress Lainie Kazan and many more. Proceeds benefit the programs and services of the Actors Fund…Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group in NoHo is staging its “very own fun, freaky and rockin’ turbo-charged version of the famous Dickens’ classic,” A Christmas Carol, helmed by Denise Devin, opening Nov 30…Fountain Theatre in Hollywood is hosting Fiesta Navidad, a holiday edition of its recurring Forever Flamenco series, organized by director/dancer Yaelisa, music direction by guitarist Jason McGuire, featuring singer Kina Mendez, dancers Mizuho Sato, Briseyda Zarate and dancer/percussionist Manuel Gutierrez, Dec 15…
THE THING IS… “I started playing him in 1980. Over the years, the script has changed incrementally, fairly minor changes. With the passage of time, we’ve grown to understand and explore some of the deeper meanings within the text. All of Charles Dickens’ works have a lot of humor in them, but there is also some very strong social commentary about what conditions were like and how bad they were back in those times -– especially for children. He didn’t just write about his concerns; he was quite a social activist, going to meetings and petitioning social welfare organizations. Dickens doesn’t hit those themes quite as hard in this work but he does refer to them. And when he does, he can make it pretty chilling. So I think we have evolved more toward bringing out those elements of his time, revealing how the poor people lived, bringing out the more serious aspects of it. The production hasn’t necessarily gotten bigger since we started doing the play. The theater complex has grown and become much more successful, but that has not translated into creating a larger or more opulent set. We never wanted a bigger, fancier production. There have been some changes in the set as we’ve gone along — mostly, set pieces wore out and were replaced, sometimes adding a different texture to the look onstage. John has been directing it from the beginning and he has maintained its consistency. As for my part, it is such a big and challenging role. It took me 20 years before I felt I could really do it justice. Also, I had a period of time where it did seem kind of a chore. But about five or six years ago I got rejuvenated and now I look forward to it each year” – Hal Landon Jr, who portrays Ebenezer Scrooge for the 34th consecutive year in South Coast Repertory’s annual staging of A Christmas Carol, helmed by John David-Keller, Nov 29-Dec 26…
Edward Everett Horton
INSIDE LA STAGE HISTORY…Edward Everett Horton is born Mar 18, 1886 in Brooklyn, the grandson of writer Edward Everett Hale (The Man Without A Country). He attends but does not graduate from Oberlin College in Ohio and Columbia University in Manhattan. An accomplished baritone, he joins Staten Island-based Dempsey Light Opera Company in 1907. A year later he joins the Louis Mann Company as a chorus boy, making his Broadway debut as a walk-on in The Man Who Stood Still. By 1911, he is working steadily, developing a reputation as a skilled comedic actor. During the teens he tours regularly across the US, eventually settling in Los Angeles, quickly becoming popular in silent films such as Ruggles of Red Gap (1923). Desiring to stay active on the live stage, Horton takes on the mantle of producer, leasing the Majestic Theater at 845 S. Broadway during the mid-1920s. Although he becomes highly in demand with the advent of talking pictures — beginning with RKO’s The Front Page (1931) — he remains loyal to the stage, in 1932 leasing Hollywood Playhouse, which is managed by his brother W.D. Horton. Horton’s big hit on stage is Benn Wolfe Levy’s Springtime for Henry, performing the play more than 3000 times in LA and on the road, including a 1951 Broadway revival. His active local stage work is reduced after the successful release of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film musical, The Gay Divorcee (1934), in which Horton establishes his signature nebbishy persona and comedic double-take. Horton makes no less than six films a year through the 1940s, segueing to television during the 1950s and ’60s. Horton succumbs to cancer on Sep 29, 1970 at age 84…
Julio Martinez-produced and hosted Arts in Review (AIR) celebrates the best in LA-area theater and cabaret on KPFK Radio (90.7FM), Fridays (2-2:30 pm). Arts in Review is taking a Thanksgiving hiatus this week.
Jeanne Witczak, Carole Weyers and Abbe Rowlins in “God’s Gypsy.” Photo by Silvia Spross.
Asked to name a saintly Catholic named Teresa, most laypeople these days would go with the late Mother Teresa. But Coco Blignaut‘s new play God’s Gypsy isn’t about the more recently famous Teresa. It’s about the 16th-century Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic St. Teresa of Ávila.
Blignaut, who also serves as executive producer, will bring her dramatization of Teresa’s tale to the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood, opening Saturday.
“She has something to say to this modern-day world of ours,” Blignaut says of the Spanish Teresa.
“Certainly, yes, she was one of the first charismatic Catholics, but this is beyond religion,” emphasizes Blignaut, who also portrays St. Teresa in the production. “The truth of God goes beyond any religion.”
Among the play’s many themes are the empowerment of women, the complexity of relationships, and “the shame of having to hide who you are,” Blignaut says.
Raised in South Africa, Blignaut is of Jewish descent, and she says it’s one of the connections she has to the character. Teresa of Ávila descended from a paternal grandfather who was a marrano — a Christian convert from Judaism. He was condemned by the Spanish Inquisition for accusations that he later returned to the Jewish faith.
Blignaut draws comparisons between the Spanish Inquisition’s oppression of Jews and the bigotry she witnessed growing up in South Africa.
At the heart of the story is Teresa’s fame as a mystic. Known for the visions she described of visitations from Jesus and the angels of heaven, Teresa was first embraced as a reformer of the practice of cloister, and then later accused of heresy. Her tale of an angel who pierced her heart in rapture with a “long spear of gold” is famously depicted in Gian Bernini’s sculpture, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, in Rome.
“I visited that statue and I was so inspired. That’s what I want. That’s what we all want,” says Blignaut. The play has a “universal message…about us all wanting that moment of rapture, but we don’t want to suffer to get it.”
Words and music
Blignaut based her script on Bárbara Mujica‘s novel, Sister Teresa. The two writers worked together in collaboration for two years to fashion the script. Mujica would often provide historical details and help with rewriting scenes, Blignaut says.
Though the play is set in the 16th century, Blignaut says she specifically stayed away from writing in classical style. “It’s written freshly in a modern way. Sophisticated and elegant, but with modern language.”
Blignaut wanted the play to have a musical score to match the style of her writing. Musician and composer Lili Haydn was an initial inspiration for what Blignaut had in mind.
“Lili was a part of the very first sentence describing the setting. When I didn’t even think that we could actually get her, I wrote: ‘A rock violinist like Lili Haydn,’” says Blignaut.
Blignaut sought Haydn out after one of her performances at Hotel Cafe last spring. “I said, ‘I want you to be in my show,’” recalls Blignaut.
“She asked me to provide a score, and be in it, and bring my songs to it,” Haydn says. She will perform parts of her score live at performances on Nov 30 and Dec 7.
Blignaut describes Haydn’s score as “classically oriented with a bohemian feel to it.”
“Think Baz Luhrmann in terms of comparison,” says Haydn. “It has elements of the time period, but tasteful elements that bring it into more of a modern period.” She says she scored the play “as if it were a film.”
Bringing forth a catalog of unreleased material, she presented Blignaut with a collection of music to choose from. “We just had a gold mine to source from,” says Blignaut.
They tackled the task of selecting the correct songs for the play. “There’s a difference between things that are connected emotionally, and what works,” says Haydn. “Some pieces are too large a production.”
“Some pieces are too complicated, or not the correct theme, ” Blignaut agrees.
“We tried not to comment on the story, but to add to it,” Haydn says.
The songs that Blignaut found most appealing are part of material Haydn is due to release on a new album next year. LiliLand is scheduled to be available in May, 2015.
At least 20 percent of the score is new material inspired by the storyline and the characters, says Haydn. “Usually, honestly, my first instinct is a motif — an initial instrumentation. I’m always driven emotionally, so I start with some type of emotional motif,” she says. “A melody can say a lot.”
Haydn says the score is meant to serve as “a Greek chorus in a way.” The music ” is the muse — kind of the soul of the show.” When she performs live with the show, she says she plants herself “on top of the music that is already scored.”
Coco Blignaut and Tsulan Cooper
“I’m sort of a mist. I wanted it to have a mystical feel,” says Haydn.
Haydn’s music was first included in rehearsals two weeks prior to opening night, and the result was “magical,” Blignaut says. “The moment the music was introduced, the magic started flowing.”
Producer and player
Wearing multiple hats for the production is a challenge, says Blignaut. “An astounding amount of work goes into producing.”
In order to focus on her performance on the stage, she has to “switch off” when rehearsing, and separate her tasks throughout the day by designating specific time slots for checking emails, returning calls, and handling production aspects.
Assembling the correct team is essential, says Blignaut, who made sure that each person was hand-picked for the project. Every actor in the cast was chosen on the basis of previous work, not via auditions. Most of the cast come from the Actors Studio, where she is a member, she says.
“They are intense,” Blignaut says. “There are some very difficult scenes — such as the torture scenes — that are very difficult on the actors. It’s exhausting.”
Exhausting, but rewarding, she adds. “Most of the choices have been magically inspired. Most of the people have had the same instinct.”
“When you choose the right people, you just say, ‘just bring yourself,’” says Haydn.
Not every initial collaboration on the project has been a success. “I had to let go of two directors before this one,” Blignaut says.
An initial hire was replaced due to schedule conflicts that could not be worked around. A second director was let go four weeks into rehearsal due to conflicts over the vision of the production, she explains.
“It was a very big lesson for me to follow my instincts. We hired that director against my instincts,” says Blignaut. Making the decision to dismiss the director wasn’t easy, she says, “but it had to be a very quick decision, so as not to disrupt the rest of the team.”
The fact that everyone else remained on board is a testament to the necessity of the decision, she says. Still, opening night had to be set back two weeks, and additional money was spent to accommodate the new rehearsal schedule.
“It was a huge risk, but we believed in the outcome, and we made the right choice,” says Blignaut.
Joel Daavid originally signed on to the production as the set designer. After a five-hour interview discussing the intricacies of the production, he was selected to assume the reins of the show, Blignaut says.
“When you engage a director, make sure their vision is compatible right from the beginning,” she says.
“He had the aesthetic,” says Haydn.
Gifts and gratitude
Overcoming obstacles and persevering through adversity is a strong theme of the play. Not unlike the title character’s viewpoints and positions, the production has been “forged in the fire of faith,” says Blignaut.
David Haverty, Daniel deWeldon and Edison Park
“It’s in the stillness and darkness where God dwells most. It is when it’s most difficult that God is closest,” she says, quoting from the script.
Back on track, this project — of three years in the making — is an exciting accomplishment for Blignaut, she says. Scheduled for a six-week run at the Lillian Theatre, with a two-week extension, the piece already has interest from Broadway and film producers, she reports.
Grateful to finally bring this story to the stage, Blignaut says “gratitude transforms everything from a negative to a positive…The gift is to truly get to create our vision, and the work you have to do to get to do that, makes it all worth it.”
God’s Gypsy, Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood 90038. Opens Saturday. Thu-Sat 8 pm, Sun 6 pm. Through Jan. 12. Tickets: $30. www.godsgypsy.com.866-811-4111.
**All God’s Gyspy production photos by Silvia Spross.
I’ve gotten a bit obsessive about my calendar these past few weeks. Between work, the holidays, and my own frazzled brain, my calendar is the only thing that’s keeping me afloat.
No one tells you when you’re a kid that, eventually, you end up so busy that you have to schedule fun time. It feels so strange to have to pencil in parties, but here we are.
And with that, and because I have parties on the brain, here are five holiday parties you should add to your own calendars.
LA STAGE SPACE OPEN HOUSE
LA STAGE Space houses the LA STAGE Alliance offices, as well as our Warehouse Co-Op and community rooms. We moved into the Space last spring, but we’re officially opening to the public on December 7 and throwing a party to celebrate.
Stop by between 2 pm and 5 pm for some light refreshments, to tour the Space, to learn more about the Warehouse Co-Op, and for an afternoon of fun. Don’t forget to RSVP.
ELITE THEATRE COMPANY
Elite Theatre Company is throwing an end-of-the-year party that’s free and open to the public. I love the theme: 1920s Murder Mystery. You have to RSVP to get a password, and can only get through the door with said password. Brilliant.
The party’s on December 28 at Elite’s theatre and RSVPs close on December 15.
THE DANCE RESOURCE CENTER
Our friends at the DRC are hosting a holiday party on December 8. (Props on their flyer, which is too cute.) Hosted at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, they’ll be providing the usual light refreshments (yes, there will be wine) and are offering a 50% renewal discount to their members who bring non-members to the party if they sign up for membership. Sounds like a good deal.
ACTORS FUND & BROADWAY CARES/EQUITY FIGHTS AIDS
If you’re looking for a holiday party that’s also for a good cause, check this one out on December 2. The Actors Fund and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is throwing an evening of family-friendly music and songs from Disney’s The Lion King sung by cast members at the Pantages. Hosted at the Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood, the evening will begin at 8:30 pm.
SAG-AFTRA is holding its annual winter celebration on December 11 from 7 pm – 9:30 pm at its headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard. All union members can join to celebrate the holiday season. They will also be accepting unwrapped toys for the The Village Family Services toy drive or a non-perishable food item for the AIDS Project Los Angeles food drive.
She’s La Virgen de Guadalupe. You’ve seen her on murals, tire covers and tattoos (I have one on my back) on the east side and on key chains, wallets, caps at Olvera Street. Statues of her are sold by the bulk on Los Angeles Street downtown, on sequined denim jackets, handbags and boots in hipster shops in Silver Lake and on Melrose. And if you haven’t seen her, well, you need to get out more.
Almost everyone recognizes her image. But, not many know the story about the Virgin Mary who appeared to a poor Indian peasant in the hills of Tepeyac near Mexico City in 1531. She is the patron saint of Mexico and regarded as “The Mother of the Americas.”
Latino Theater Company‘s dramatization of the story for the holiday season started in 1991 at downtown LA’s Million Dollar Theatre and continued five years later at East LA’s St. Alphonsus Church, using Luis Valdez’s La Virgen de Tepeyac. Another five years passed — and in 2001, during the construction of the Catholic Church’s new downtown Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Latino Theater Company artistic director Jose Luis Valenzuela said, “We should do La Virgen in the new cathedral.”
I thought it was a long shot, but that has never stopped Jose Luis. Over the past 28 years, his grandiose vision has taken us to places unknown. So, I responded, “great idea.”
The telling of this story goes back centuries since the first publishing of the Nican Mopohua — the first written record in Nahuatl (the indigenous language of the Nahua people) in the 16th century. It has been presented in celebration of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, with pageants and processions. We present it as a pageant play with music and dance, with a huge cast that includes professional actors and musicians, a community choir, Aztec dancers and a cast of children, youth, adults and senior citizens. Our youngest cast member is five years old and our oldest is 94. We offer it as a holiday gift, free to the public, so that poor and working families who can’t afford higher-priced holiday performances can enjoy the play together during the holidays.
It’s a simple story. Juan Diego, a Nahua Indian baptized into the Catholic faith, leaves his indigenous name (Cuauhtlatoazin) and beliefs and is chosen by the dark-skinned virgin who appears to him and speaks to him in Nahuatl, his native language. She sends him to the Archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, with a message from the heavens. But, because he is a poor Indian, he is accused of lying and of sorcery. With the kind encouragement of the Virgin Mother, he returns to the archbishop insisting that her wishes are obeyed. But not until she performs a miracle is Juan Diego believed and revered.
We present the story in Spanish with English supertitles. But because of the play’s universal message of faith, love and perseverance, the play appeals to many people, regardless of race, language or religion. Renowned mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmán will sing the title role of La Virgen, and Latino Theater Company members, professional musicians, and Aztec dancers will also be featured. But we are most proud of how we can include a large community ensemble of children, youth and seniors in the cast.
The image of La Virgen de Guadalupe has become a symbol of justice and equality over the centuries by people such as Father Miguel Hidalgo in the fight for independence of Mexico; in civil rights and police brutality protests in the ’60s and ’70s; by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union; and in the million-immigrant march to City Hall in 2005.
One of my mentors, Luis Valdez, began the tradition of presenting the story of La Virgen de Guadalupe with El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista in the ’70s, and Chicano/a Latino theater makers around the country tell this story as a reminder of our struggles, past and present.
So, we sent a letter to the Cathedral proposing the production for December 2002, two months after the grand opening, and we promptly received a “Thanks, but, no thanks” response. Then, in a dramatic turn of events, on the closing night of our production of Dementia in November 2002, we were informed that the Cathedral folks had changed their minds and wanted the production after all. I had written a new adaptation of the tale, and like a miracle…
And so began our partnership with Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral and a new holiday tradition for the 6,000 people who attend over two days of performances. This tradition is important to our theater company and to our family members, who all give a helping hand in the production. La Virgen has become our own manda (promise) to Los Angeles, the immigrant and working communities, and to all Angelenos, as we take pause from producing at the LATC (although in 2007 we produced it at LATC as well as at the cathedral) and give thanks for all of the blessings we have received throughout the year.
The 2013 production of La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin, marks our 11th year presenting our adaptation of the Nican Mopohua. We skipped a year in 2012 because to lack of funding. But, due to public outcry and thanks to a generous donation from Goya Foods and donations from LATC board members Castulo de La Rocha (AltaMed Health Services) and Walter Ulloa (Entravision Entertainment), the story of a poor Indian named Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe will be told at Our Lady of the Angels again We hope to see you there!
La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin, Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, 555 W Temple St, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Dec 4 and 5, 7:30 pm. Free, but preferred seating tickets for $35 available at www.thelatc.org.
**La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin production photos by Carol Petersen.
Evelina Fernandez is an actor and playwright. She is a TCG Fox Actor Fellow and the recipient of the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for A Mexican Trilogy. She has been a member of the Latino Theater Company for 28 years.
As Thanksgiving approaches, here’s something that anyone who’s reading this can be thankful for — that we’re not dead yet. Or at least that’s what I’ve concluded from several of the recent shows I’ve seen in LA: Play Dead, We’re Gonna Die, Exit the King and Endgame.
Besides that minimal standard of still being alive, I also have the blessing of having relatives who aren’t as spiteful or as hypocritical as most of the characters in The Pain and the Itch, which is the one specifically Thanksgiving-set play I’ve seen lately.
But beyond these not-as-bad-as-it-could-be blessings, is anything actually improving in the second decade of the 21st century? Well, if you juxtapose seeing The Normal Heart and The Homosexuals — both in extended LA runs — you might at least tentatively say yes to that question.
Todd Robbins in “Play Dead.” Photo by Michael Lamont.
First let’s juxtapose Play Dead and We’re Gonna Die, both of which opened last week (and the latter has already closed, which is strangely appropriate for a show that’s titled We’re Gonna Die).
Play Dead is the Geffen’s showcase for the brusquely seductive magician/mentalist/horror enthusiast Todd Robbins. He reminds his spectators of our eventual deaths by creating a frisson of fright in the theater — which makes us, momentarily, become more intensely alive. He has used a roller coaster analogy to describe this effect.
In other words, this is a great Halloween show that unfortunately opened after Halloween — perhaps because the Geffen already had another scary show, Wait Until Dark, up for Halloween?
Robbins directly asks his audiences — not just the critics — to avoid being too specific about what happens during Play Dead, when communicating with anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. He has good reasons for wanting people to be as surprised as possible by what happens.
So this will be brief, but let me just say that Play Dead is harrowingly entertaining — so much so that my wife was hoarse for several days after seeing it with me, at least in part because of the involuntary noises that passed through her throat as she responded to some of those surprises.
As an advocate for more locally-set theater, I also applaud the fact that Robbins draws on his Long Beach youth for some of his material. He even introduces us to the story of a real-life Long Beach woman whom he knew before she was murdered.
When he was a teenager, he told after-dark stories to his friends in a Long Beach cemetery. Now he’s doing the same at the Geffen — but with considerably advanced production components, under the direction of Teller.
By contrast, the production elements of Young Jean Lee’s We’re Gonna Die are closer to those of a teenager telling stories than they are to those on display in Play Dead.
Young Jean Lee in “We’re Gonna Die.” Photo courtesy of CAP UCLA.
Although Lee is 39 (according to Wikipedia), she looks, well, younger — not that much older than a teenager. She tells a few autobiographical stories which lead into musical numbers that she performs with the Brooklyn-based band Future Wife. Most of these stories are about embarrassing or painful memories, which gradually lead up to her not-so-grand finale — the titular song “We’re Gonna Die.” As presented by CAP UCLA at the Actors’ Gang theater, the entire show lasted no longer than an hour.
I was underwhelmed by it, perhaps because LA Times critic Charles McNulty had inflated expectations for it far too high in a long front-page review Friday.
Lee maintains her cool while talking and singing about her sorrows and our coming deaths. In the middle of her concluding song, she and the members of the band interrupt the supposedly grim lyrics to present an ironic little dance that appears to be choreographed in an intentionally sophomoric style, almost like something you might see from a collegiate pep squad.
In short, the message seems to be to forget dread and raging against the dying of the light — just accept death as a pleasant little musical number. That’s another way of saying that I felt virtually nothing at all during We’re Gonna Die, other than wondering if Lee was aware of her apparent need to take professional singing lessons.
You might say that Robbins indulges in tricks and hocus-pocus in Play Dead, but at least they result in arousing definite feelings within his audience. I’ll remember the sensations I experienced during Play Dead a lot longer than the bland ho-hum quality of We’re Gonna Die.
Speaking of dying, local companies have recently presented two absurdist takes on kings (and by extension, societies?) in their death throes. Geoff Elliott’s staging of Endgame for A Noise Within closed over the weekend, but A Theatre Connection’s Exit the King continues through Saturday at NoHo Actors Studio.
Jeff Alan-Lee in “Exit the King.” Photo by Nickalas Parker.
After seeing the two within a few days of each other, I prefer Eugène Ionesco’s Exit the King. The king in Ionesco’s play puts up a lot more resistance to his fate than the king in Samuel Beckett’s play. Almost by definition, that creates more drama.
I’ve seen several productions of Endgame, and A Noise Within’s was good enough, but the script has never stirred me nearly as much as, say, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot — although the two plays are frequently discussed as if they are equally Beckett’s masterpieces. I always become more engaged in Godot than I do in Endgame, which usually engenders more of a so-what, why-bother feeling.
I’m not sure that I had ever seen Exit the King, but judging from Pat Towne’s production of a Geoffrey Rush/Neil Armfield translation, it strikes me as closer to Godot in spirit than it is to Endgame. Jeff-Alan Lee’s king — ridiculous and immature though he may be — keeps fighting for quite a while, and the members of his revenue are distinctively engaging, as portrayed by Erin Matthews, Jill Bennett, Terry Tocantins, Analia Lenchantin and Nicholas Ullett.
Play Dead, Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. Tonight 8 pm.Tue-Fri 8 pm, Sat 3 pm and 8 pm, Sun 2 pm and 7 pm. Dark Thanksgiving Day. Closes Dec 22. www.GeffenPlayhouse.com. 310-208-5454.
Exit the King, NoHo Actors Studio, 5215 Lankershim Blvd,, North Hollywood. Fri-Sat 8 pm. Closes Saturday. www.exittheking.com. 818-763-1208.
Wilder Theatrics has revived Bruce Norris’ The Pain and the Itch, giving me my first opportunity to re-visit this earlier work by the playwright since he became famous for Clybourne Park. I admire Clybourne Park, but I didn’t recall admiring The Pain and the Itch all that much during the Boston Court/Furious Theatre co-production of it in 2009, before I had ever heard of Clybourne Park. So I wanted to see if my experience of Clybourne Park might help me gain a greater appreciation of The Pain and the Itch.
Kiara Lisette Gamboa, April Adams, Eric Hunicutt and Beverly Hynds in “The Pain and the Itch.” Photo by Ed Krieger.
Jennifer Chambers stages The Pain and the Itch very well in its current incarnation at the Zephyr Theatre, and some of the acerbic dialogue among the characters is somewhat reminiscent of the dialogue in Clybourne Park. But the essential difference is that Norris wrote an unnecessarily convoluted and somewhat implausible ending for the narrative of The Pain and the Itch, leaving not only a bad taste in the brain but also a somewhat confused taste, making us forget about some of his acid-tongued social commentary.
Chambers sets this version in Pacific Palisades, but it hardly matters in terms of local content. I didn’t hear any references to local landmarks.
The Pain and the Itch, Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., LA. Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm. Closes Sunday. www.plays411.com/pain. 323-960-5774.
The Normal Heart was written nearly three decades ago, as terror was enveloping gay America in response to the outbreak of AIDS. It covers the reaction to the crisis among a group of gay men in New York and sharply condemns New York authorities for their tardy attention to the crisis. As directed by Simon Levy at the Fountain, it has a life-and-death urgency that makes for a gripping evening in the theater — although the preaching gets a little heavy-handed in a few scenes.
Kurt Quinn and Brian Dare in “The Homosexuals.” Photo by Sean Lambert.
The Homosexuals covers a decade of life within a group of gay men in Chicago, from 2000 to 2010 — or rather from 2010 to 2000, as Dawkins used a backwards chronology. The play was first produced in 2011. AIDS is the topic of some discussion in it, and one of the characters is HIV-positive. But the play is primarily about the men’s relationships with each other, as both lovers and as friends.
There is a distinct generational divide on display in The Homosexuals, between the older men who were around during the panic of the ‘80s and the younger men who weren’t. One of the older characters in The Homosexuals, Mark (David Fraiolo), bears such severe emotional scars from the earlier battles that he alienates just about everyone. Meanwhile, the youngest character (Brian Dare) — who’s also the only character in every scene of the play — is so emotionally available that he’s just about everyone’s boyfriend at some point, although he never hooks up with the one friend who brought him into this circle. He also betrays a rather casual sense of caution about protection about the threat of HIV in one scene — but when he becomes sick, it’s appendicitis, not AIDS.
There is one woman in each of these plays. The doctor in The Normal Heart assumes a passionately serious tone throughout the play, while the “fag hag” in The Homosexuals knows how to kid around with the guys.
Levy, the director of The Normal Heart, wants everyone to know the AIDS plague is still ongoing. But Dawkins (and perhaps Michael Matthews, the director of The Homosexuals?) seem eager to point out that AIDS is only one strand in the fabric of gay men’s lives in contemporary America. Gay men today, they seem to be saying, can also pay attention to the conditions of their “normal hearts” — their relationships with each other — in a much more Chekhovian framework.
Of course these relationships aren’t always ideal. And all people everywhere still need to remember that “we’re gonna die,” but at least these characters in The Homosexuals don’t expect to die in the next few weeks. That’s deserving of some thanks.
The Normal Heart, Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., LA. Thu-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm. Dark Thanksgiving Day and Dec 7-8. Closes Dec. 15. www.FountainTheatre.com. 323-663-1525.
The Homosexuals, Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater. Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm. Closes Dec. 15. www.CelebrationTheatre.com. 323-957-1884.
Actress Jane Kaczmarek attended with her 10-year-old daughter Mary Louisa. When asked what brought her to Beauty, she replied “It’s the holiday season, and what a perfect way to kick it off! My older daughter Francis Whitford is a ballerina and wanted to be here but was sick tonight, so I grabbed my other daughter to come with me. I didn’t want to miss this.”
What do you tell the girls about meeting Prince Charming? Kaczmarek glanced at her daughter and laughed heartily, “We-l-l-l, I understand [Bourne's] choreography is quite surprising in many ways so, it’s a nice twist — more humorous and probably a more realistic take on Prince Charming is what I’m assuming.” And I assumed that was her delightful “mom” way to deal with the age-old love tale while raising two young girls.
Kaczmarek’s daughter Francis performed with the Bolshoi this summer. “She’s such a serious dancer. I always loved ballet but was never allowed to take ballet lessons when I was growing up in Milwaukee. I could take baton twirling but not ballet. My father said ballet was not culturally beneficial but baton twirling was.” Really? She added with a big grin, “I think it was also that the lessons were less expensive.”
Mary Poppins composer Richard Sherman has written numerous film scores, musicals and songs. “I came to see my friend Matthew Bourne. He choreographed the stage version of Mary Poppins, and I love ballet. It’s the music of the body. The body can express such beautiful things, and together with music it becomes a very special art form.”
Jane Kaczmarek and daughter Mary Kaczmarek
In the recently released film Saving Mr. Banks, about Walt Disney’s battle to obtain film rights for Mary Poppins, Jason Schwartzman plays Sherman. “Yes” he grinned proudly, “Jason does look like me a little bit. He does a good job.”
What’s the difference between a good song and a great one? “I think there’s a certain magic that takes place if a great idea is wedded to remarkably beautiful musical and expressive original words. That’s when it usually becomes a great song. But, the idea has to come first. A great idea, masterfully expressed, can become a great song.”
Bourne is considered a master in the dance world; what makes his work so special? Sherman’s response was immediate, “Originality; great originality and freshness. He always brings a bright new approach to things. A well-worn old shoe, in the right mind and with the right ideas, can become a brand-new shoe. I haven’t seen this production yet, but it’s a story everyone knows and loves, so I’m very excited to see Matthew’s take on it tonight.”
Debbie Allen arrived wearing a fabulous gray suit, matching hat and “comfy” Uggs. It’s a smart lady who stays warm, protects those talented dancing feet and still manages to look great. “I love Bourne,” she said, “because he doesn’t put himself in a box. He opens up the world to his own creativity and takes the audience on a wonderful journey every time.”
Albert Einstein has been quoted as having said or written that “Dancers are the athletes of God.” Allen pauses for a moment to fully absorb and think about the quote. “Wow, I love that. Yes, yes, I agree because we’re beautiful, sculptured; we fly, we spin, we command time and space. Oh yeah!”
Do you believe in fairy tales? “I do. I still believe in fairy tales. It’s wonderful to dream. You know, the world is such a chaotic place and we need to have someplace where we can go where the mind can be at peace and our spirit can feel joy. Sometimes, that doesn’t exist in the real world, and you need to go into a world of fantasy.”
Richard Sherman and Matthew Bourne
Allen is very proud of her latest project. “We’re doing TheHot Chocolate Nutcracker at Royce Hall on December 14 and 15. The rats take over the story and it’s very funny. This is our third year. We took it and made it fresh. We’re going to play in our fantasy world. You should come.”
After the show, we all met again in the lower lobby to offer a champagne toast to the cast. Bourne beamed and explained, “Every audience and every city is different. You get surprised and you get taken aback sometimes, because it’s not what you expect.” Asked to compare tonight’s audience to others, he said, “Here you can always guarantee an amazing warmth and people who get it, you know? The audience gets it right from the beginning. I felt that tonight and I could feel the company feeling it as well. When a company feels it, they do their best work. They rise to the occasion. I don’t think audiences realize how they can affect a show they are watching. If the audience is good, the show is better.”
This cast does so much more than dance magnificently; they are clearly actors who fly. He laughs delightedly, “That’s right. Yes. A lot of them have worked with me for years and were trained by the company.” Bourne was referring to New Adventures, an internationally successful UK repertory company where he is artistic director.
“They’re not trained actors. The thing we stress is truth — performances they can understand and that mean something to them. We found it’s a good way for dancers to act. Rather than getting too overly complex about it, just find the real truth of it and the audience will believe you. That’s what they do and they’ve become very skilled at it.
“Some of the dancers I’ve worked with have no acting training whatsoever, and they’re becoming really fine actors. It’s just through talking about it; and they get to perform a lot, which is great because it enables them to try things out.”
Matthew Bourne and Debbie Allen
Although much has been written about this version depicting good vs. evil and incorporating supernatural elements into the fairy tale, Bourne says, “for me, the story is about love that has to survive all sorts of things. It’s a classic story really, and that’s what I tried to set up. When they finally meet again in the end, he’s had to change himself into this vampiric fairy. It sounds crazy when I talk about it, but it’s what he must do in order to be there for her when she wakes up. And then she has to accept him as he is. I love that.
“There is the good vs. evil element going on through it, and of course, good has to triumph eventually but not until the end. I think that’s the key in storytelling. The problem with the story is when it winds itself up too early on. I try to keep it going right to the end, so you don’t really know what is going to happen. Maybe she’s going to marry the wrong man. That’s the idea and one of the pleasures of this production, I think.”
What inspires the man who has been an inspiration to so many? “Ah. These days it’s working with great people. The collaborators, the dancers, the designer and of course, always, the music. Whether it’s new or, like Tchaikovsky, old, it’s completely inspiring to me.
“I have to love the people I’m working with, as well as the subject matter, because I work with it so much for such a long time. I still enjoy watching this. After a year, I’m still watching it a lot. I’ve probably watched it over 200 times from beginning to end — not bits, the whole thing. And I get enormous pleasure from the way audiences react to it, as I observe how it renews itself all the time.”
Hannah Vassallo, a veteran of Bourne’s many productions — including Car Man, Play Without Words and Edward Scissorhands — performed the beautiful princess Aurora. The lifts in which Vassallo is partnered by Dominic North are breathtaking. Vassallo reveals that the most exciting part of the evening for her is the story. “I love telling it from start to finish. It’s such a huge journey, and she has a vast arc to cover.”
Matthew Bourne, Dominic North and Hannah Vassallo
Staying in shape on tour is essential. “I’m constantly stretching and rolling out my muscles; also, we have a technical class every day — either ballet or contemporary. It keeps our technique strong. I try to eat healthy food, but that’s difficult because we don’t have a kitchen, so we can’t cook.”
Vassallo has had periods of time when she was out of work but explains her success, simply. “I really love what I do and I love the company I work for. It’s a family and it’s such a nurturing environment. There are always exciting things to look forward to. Success is about always keeping positive and keeping in mind what you really love to do.”
You will love to watch this amazing company in its thrilling production at the Ahmanson through Dec 1.
“Everything was beautiful at the ballet. Graceful men lift lovely girls in white. Yes, everything was beautiful at the ballet. Hey! I was happy at the ballet.”
– “At the Ballet,” A Chorus Line, lyrics by Edward Kleban
From left, cast members Liam Mower and Katy Lowenhoff pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
Christopher Marney, Jodie Gats, Glorya Kaufman, Hannah Vassallo
From left, cast member Christopher Marney, Vice Dean, USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance Jodie Gats, Glorya Kaufman and cast member Hannah Vassallo pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, cast members Adam Maskell and Christopher Marney pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, CTG Artistic Director Michael Ritchie and cast members Hannah Vassallo and Dominic North pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
Hannah Vassallo, Glorya Kaufman, Renae Williams Niles
From left, cast member Hannah Vassallo, Glorya Kaufman and Renae Williams Niles, Music Center, pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, Renae Williams Niles, Music Center, and CTG Producing Director Douglas C. Baker pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
From left, CTG Founding Artistic Director Gordon Davidson and Director/Choreographer Matthew Bourne pose during the reception for the opening night performance of "Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty" at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on November 21, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Avenue, LA 90012. Tue-Wed 8 pm, Fri-Sat 2 pm and 8 pm; Sun 1 pm and 6:30 pm. Through Dec. 1. Tickets: $20-110. www.centertheatregroup.org. 213-972-7200.